PARIS (AP) — France’s government sounded the alarm Monday about the growing risk of forest fires because of climate change, as hundreds of firefighters in the country’s parched south wrestled with their biggest woodland-destroying blaze so far this year.
The fire erupted Sunday and burned on more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land along the Mediterranean coast, and spread across the border into northeastern Spain.
On a visit Monday to the zone, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said: “The fire season is starting early because of climate warming.”
Forest fires have long regularly afflicted France but generally used to start later in the year. However, major wildfires in Europe are now starting earlier in the year, becoming more frequent and harder to stop, and doing more damage. Scientists say they’ll likely get worse as climate change intensifies. The Mediterranean region is warming faster than the global average.
“We’re in April. We have already seen the start of several important fires, notably in the south of France,” Darmanin said.
Droughts that hit France last year have been compounded by shortages of rain this past winter, leaving already tinder-dry woodlands at even greater risk.
French authorities are urging home owners to chop back and thin out trees and scrublands around their properties and appealing for people to take extra care not to discard cigarettes or otherwise start fires inadvertently.
Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-bombing planes were deployed to tackle Sunday’s forest fire between Banyuls-sur-Mer and Cerbère in southern France that also spilled into Spain.
French rescue services spokesman Arnaud Wilm told broadcaster FranceInfo on Monday morning that the blaze is being successfully contained and that its biggest flames have been extinguished but fire crews were still working to completely stop its spread and put it out.
On the Spanish side, firefighters said the flames that spread close to the town of Portbou were still active but had been stabilized and were no longer spreading.
They said two border roads remained closed to traffic and the train service linking Portbou to Cerbère was halted.
Spanish national television said some 50 people were temporarily evacuated from their houses near the town while around 20 French people unable to cross the border were given accommodation overnight in the town.
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