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‘A very clear sign of climate change’: France prepares wildfire-fighting forces a month early

French rescuers from the Securite Civile force prepare for this year's fire season.
French rescuers from the Securite Civile force prepare for this year's fire season. Copyright REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Copyright REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
By Euronews Green with Reuters
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Last year, wildfires in France started much earlier than usual in what officials have called a "very clear sign of climate change".

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France will have wildfire-fighting troops and their water-carrying aircraft ready on 1 June, one month earlier than usual. 

The date has been brought forward to adapt as fires start earlier than usual due to climate change, a senior official said.

An unusually dry winter has reduced moisture in the soil and raised fears of a repeat of 2022 when 785,000 hectares were destroyed across Europe - more than double the annual average for the past 16 years.

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Aircraft during the presentation of the 2023 plan to fight against wildfires, at Nimes-Garons airbase in France.REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

"Last year we had wildfires as early as June, so we decided ... to mobilise the troops to the maximum, and that the aircraft and ground troops be fully ready on 1 June," said civil security general inspector Francois Peny, speaking at an airbase in Nimes, in southwestern France.

"It's one month earlier than in the past," he said. "This is a very clear sign of climate change."

France has already battled its first major forest fire this year

Amid France's first major blaze this year at the border with Spain earlier this month, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that the country was headed for "an extremely difficult summer 2023, possibly as difficult as summer 2022."

Hundreds of firefighters wrestled to control the first forest blaze of the year on 16 April. It ripped through woodlands and scrub which straddle the country's southern border with Spain. 

CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS
A Canadair CL-415 aircraft drops water during the presentation of the 2023 plan to fight against wildfires.CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

Nearly 1000 hectares of land between Banyuls-sur-Mer and Cerbère on the Mediterranean coast burned and the fire spread across the border. 

Darmanin said that the fire season was starting early due to climate change. 

Dry weather leads to water restrictions

Last year, extreme heat and lack of rain caused problems in France and across Europe. A dry winter has made the situation even worse at the start of this year. 

Some districts in the south of the country have already introduced water restrictions and the geological institute has said that low groundwater reserves could herald an even worse drought this summer.

NACHO DOCE/REUTERS
The city of Cerbere where land was affected by a wildfire that destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares lands on the French-Spanish border.NACHO DOCE/REUTERS

"The situation is worrying because the whole of France is affected and we have had several dry years," BRGM hydrologist Violaine Bault said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for new water-saving measures, saying that all sectors should decrease their water usage by 10 per cent by 2030.

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