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Europe rushes firefighters to France amid ‘worst drought in 500 years’

FIREFIGHTERS from across Europe deployed to France yesterday to help battle wildfires ripping through the country’s forests.

The fire in the Gironde region and the neighbouring Landes has burned almost 30 square miles since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of at least 10,000 people. 

More than 360 firefighters and 100 land vehicles were sent from Germany, Romania, Poland and Austria. They are joining over 1,000 French firefighters already on site. Greece sent two specialised Canadair aircraft.

Sweden deployed two two firefighting Air Tractor planes to to help battle separate wildfires in Brittany.

Over 230 square miles have burnt in France’s worst wildfires in a decade. In Portugal, thousands of firefighters continued to battle a week-old wildfire in the Serra da Estrela national park. 

There has been no significant rainfall in western, central and southern Europe for two months, with experts saying the continent faces its worst drought in 500 years. 

Some rivers, such as the Tille, have run dry, with fishing officials saying the impact on river life is devastating. Federation for Fishing and Protection of the Aquatic Environment Jean-Philippe Couasne said that without rain, “the river will continue to empty. And yes, all fish will die — they are trapped upstream and downstream, there is no water coming in, so the oxygen level will keep decreasing.”

Water levels in major rivers including the Danube and Rhine are dropping, with officials fearing that shipment of goods including coal and petrol will soon be affected. Serbia has begun dredging the Danube to keep it navigable. 

Meteorologists say hotter summers are combining with reduced snowfall in winter to reduce water levels. 

Agriculture is suffering, with maize production likely to drop by 12.5 million tons across the European Union and French farmers saying they expect to have to import grain usually produced at home to feed their livestock. Sunflower production for oil is predicted to fall by 1.6 million tons and Spanish farmers have had to fell hundreds of avocado trees as reservoirs lack the water to keep them alive.

Droughts are also hitting the United States, Mexico and parts of east Africa. China has warned of a heatwave that is pushing temperatures above 40°C in 15 of its 34 provinces.

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