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France is gasping from a dire water shortage with hundreds of towns and villages left with no tap water as ‘ogre’ wildfires rip across the country for the second time this summer in a ‘vision of hell’.
The entire nation is suffering its worst drought on record with restrictions in place to limit water usage, but for more than 100 parched communes, they don’t even have the option to ration their supply.
French environment minister Christophe Béchu said it is a ‘historic’ crisis for so many communities to have no tap water at all, as fleets of vans ferry bottled water to the desperate residents.
The suffocating heat with no water relief is a story reflected across Europe, with Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany also under emergency measures.
Water levels on the Rhine are critically low, causing a huge logjam for essential cargo deliveries of oil and coal to Dutch ports which could further worsen the continent’s energy crisis.
Italy’s Po River is at its lowest level in history while Spain is also battling wildfires and a drought that has left one reservoir 87 per cent empty.
Here, MailOnline takes a look at how the furnace-like conditions have caused perishing droughts and catastrophic fires across the continent.
Europe is in the grips of sweltering heat, severe drought and raging wildfires that are tearing through Spain, France and Portugal, while key waterways such as the Rhine and the Po are running dry
FRANCE: Firefighters attempt to tackle a blaze near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, southwestern France, as wildfires rip through France again
FRANCE: The sky is illuminated by flames at a wildfire near Belin-Beliet as thousands flee their homes from the encroaching fire
FRANCE: French officials warned that flare-ups could cause a massive wildfire to further spread in the country’s parched southwest
FRANCE: A partially dried pond is seen near Aire-sur-Adour, southwestern France, amid the country’s ‘historic’ drought which has caused water supplies to run dry
PORTUGAL: – A wildfire burns in Manteigas, central Portugal, in the natural park of Serra da Estrela
GERMANY: Cargo ships travel on the dried-out Rhine River with lighter loads due to the low water levels
SPAIN: Civil Guard agents watch on as a forest fire burns near the town of Bustelo in Pontevedra, Spain
ITALY: A view shows the bottom of the Po river in the province of Mantua with water levels at their lowest in recorded history
Bone dry: Almost half of EU land is currently under a drought warning or worse because of a combination of heatwaves and a ‘wide and persistent’ lack of rain, experts have warned. A map (pictured) reveals the countries most at risk. Areas in orange are under ‘warning’ conditions, while 15 per cent of land has moved into the most severe ‘alert’ state (shown in red)
The unusually hot and dry summer combined with a lack of snow in the Alps has led to a water shortage which has been exacerbated by the lethal wildfires torching much of the country, with eight still active.
In the village of Ollières in Var, south east France, the taps ran completely dry and when supplies were eventually resumed, the water was declared unsafe because of the sand and sediment that had entered the pipes.
More than 1,000 firefighters, nine planes and two water bomber helicopters have been deployed to tackle the blazes across four French departments as locals described the sky ‘roaring like the ocean’ in the ‘hellish’ scenes.
Gregory Allione from the French firefighters body FNSPF told RTL Radio today: ‘I would qualify the fire in Landiras as a mega-fire,’ Allione told RTL Radio.
‘It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,’ he added.
Flames in the Gironde region near Bordeaux in southwestern France have destroyed homes, forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents, some of whom clambered onto rooftops for safety, and scorched more than 6,800 hectares of forest.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires just last month – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
‘It’s a disaster, economically, ecologically, it’s awful,’ Jean-Louis Dartiailh, the mayor of Hostens, a small town close to the fire, told Radio Classique. ‘The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted.’
More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System shows.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires just last month – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest
More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021
No one has been injured but 16 homes were destroyed or damaged near the village of Belin-Beliet, and officials said six fire engines had been burned
More than 1,000 firefighters, nine planes and two water bomber helicopters have been deployed to tackle the blazes across the country
Acrid smoke has spread across a huge swathe of the Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer
French officials warned Thursday that flare-ups could cause a massive wildfire to further spread in the country’s parched southwest
The government said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin would travel to the frontline of fire-fighting efforts in the southwestern French region of Gironde on Thursday.
No one has been injured but 16 homes were destroyed or damaged near the village of Belin-Beliet, and officials said six fire engines had been burned.
Acrid smoke has spread across a huge swathe of the Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency ‘strongly’ urging people to wear protective face masks.
‘The risks are very high’ that parched conditions will allow the fire to spread further, said Martin Guespereau, prefect of the Gironde department.
‘The weather is very unfavourable because of the heat, the dry air, the record drought and the fact that there is a lot of peat in the ground… the fire didn’t go out in July, it went underground,’ he told journalists.
Darmanin said investigators suspected arson may be involved.
‘There were eight fires that erupted between 8:00 and 9:00 am (0600 and 0700 GMT) that erupted at intervals of a few hundred metres, which is extremely unusual,’ he said in Mostuejouls, north of the Mediterranean city of Montpellier, where another fire was raging in the Grands Causses natural park.
He also told reporters that Sweden and Italy would send fire-fighting aircraft to France within 24 hours to help.
‘It’s a major fire… much more intense and fast-moving’ than at the height of the Landiras blaze last month, Marc Vermeulen of the regional fire-fighting authority told journalists.
France has been buffeted this summer by a record drought that has forced water-use restrictions nationwide
Many villages were evacuated, such as Saint-Magne, Mano, Belin-Beliet, Moustey and Saugnac-et-Muret, and the A63 highway was also closed
Flames in the Gironde region near Bordeaux in southwestern France have destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents
‘I opened the door last night and there was (a) red wall in front of us, the sky was roaring like the ocean,’ said Eliane, a 43-year-old at a temporary shelter for evacuees in Belin-Beliet.
For Christian Fostitchenko, 61, and his partner Monique, waiting at a martial arts dojo in nearby Salles, it was their second evacuation of the summer from their home in Saint-Magne.
‘This time we were really scared – the flames were less than 100 metres (328 feet) from the house,’ he said.
The fire was spreading toward the A63 motorway, a major artery linking Bordeaux to Spain, with thick smoke forcing the road’s closure between Bordeaux and Bayonne.
Wildfires have also ignited in the dry hills of the southeast and even in the normally lush areas of Brittany along the coast.
On Wednesday, officials in western France said a wildfire near Angers and Le Mans has burned 1,200 hectares since Monday as nearly 400 firefighters struggle to contain it.
The drought in Germany has caused water levels on the Rhine to fall so dramatically that it could reach a critically low point in the coming days, officials have said.
This could make it increasingly difficult to transport goods – including coal and gasoline – through the key waterway which could worsen the already devastating energy crisis.
Weeks of dry weather have turned several of Europe’s major waterways into trickles, posing a headache for German factories and power plants that rely on deliveries by ship and making an economic slowdown ever more likely.
The Rhine river – Germany’s most-important waterway – is running so low that it may soon become impassable to barges, threatening huge economic damage
Transport vessels cruise past the partially dried riverbed of the Rhine river in Bingen, Germany, amid the ongoing droughts
The droughts are not only affecting Germany, with Spain, southern France, Portugal and most of Italy suffering from the shortages
Transporting goods by inland waterways is more important in Germany than in many other Western European countries, according to Capital Economics.
‘This is particularly the case for the Rhine, whose nautical bottleneck at Kaub has very low water levels but which remains navigable for ships with small drafts,’ said Tim Alexandrin, a spokesman for Germany’s Transport Ministry.
Authorities predict that water levels at Kaub will dip below the mark of 40 centimetres early Friday and keep falling over the weekend.
While this is still higher than the record low of 27 centimetres seen in October 2018, many large ships could struggle to safely pass the river at that spot, located roughly mid-way along the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz.
‘The situation is quite dramatic, but not as dramatic yet as in 2018,’ said Christian Lorenz, a spokesman for the German logistics company HGK.
Due to the lack of water, ships bringing salt down the Rhine River from Heilbronn to Cologne that would normally carry 2,200 metric tons of cargo are only able to transport about 600 tons, he said.
‘Of course, we hope that shipping won’t be halted, but we saw in 2018 that when water levels got very low the gas stations suddenly had no more fuel because ships couldn’t get through,’ Lorenz said.
Authorities are taking steps to shift more goods traffic onto the rail network and, if necessary, give it priority, said Alexandrin, the Transport Ministry spokesman.
In Andalusia, one of Europe’s hottest and driest regions, paddle-boats and waterslides lie abandoned on the cracked bed of Vinuela reservoir which is now 87 per cent empty.
A prolonged dry spell and extreme heat made July the hottest month in Spain since at least 1961.
Spanish reservoirs are at just 40 per cent of capacity on average in early August, well below the ten-year average of around 60 per cent, official data shows.
A forest fire burns near the town of Bustelo in Spain which had to be evacuated due to the proximity of the flames
Flames from a forest fire burning in O Irixo in Pontevedra in Spain edge towards homes as wildfires rip across Europe
The country was gutted by wildfires last month, and more have sprung up again, destroying 270 hectares in Carballeda de Valdeorras.
Fire fighters say the blaze is ‘still active and out of control’ after it broke out on Tuesday in Casaio, which suffered a wildfire in July.
The dry, hot weather is likely to continue into the autumn, Spain’s meteorological service AEMET said in a recent report, putting further strain on Europe’s largest network of dammed reservoirs with a holding capacity of 5.6 billion cubic metres.
‘We are in a particularly dry year, a very difficult year that confirms what climate change scenarios have been highlighting,’ Energy Minister Teresa Ribera told a news conference on Monday, also highlighting that the drought was leading to devastating wildfires.
Nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area.
The region 170 miles northeast of Lisbon has seen more than 3,000 hectares of forest ravaged since Saturday.
The blaze is being fanned by strong winds, causing a ‘very violent’ ignition after the flames were previously brought under control.
The fire razed hectares of natural heritage landscape including precious habitats and 100-year-old trees that will never be recovered, and three firefighters have been taken out of service due to injuries sustained tackling the inferno.
Protected species such as bellflowers, campion and juniper have been lost, as well as owl, deer, rabbit, buzzard and red kite habitats.
A wildfire that broke out on August 6 has been raging in the natural park of Serra da Estrela
The region 170 miles northeast of Lisbon has seen more than 3,000 hectares of forest ravaged since Saturday
Nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area
The blaze is being fanned by strong winds, causing a ‘very violent’ ignition after the flames were previously brought under control
The fire razed hectares of natural heritage landscape including precious habitats and 100-year-old trees that will never be recovered
Local authorities in areas surrounding Italy’s longest river, the Po, have declared a state of emergency after levels dropped sharply.
The Po is responsible for about a third of Italy’s agricultural production.
Large sandbanks now bake in the sun as water levels recede sharply, revealing the very bottom of the river.
The drought-stricken waters are running so low they revealed a previously submerged World War Two bomb.
Military experts defused and carried out a controlled explosion on Sunday of the 450-kg (1,000-pound) bomb, which was discovered on July 25 near the northern village of Borgo Virgilio, close to the city of Mantua.
Members of the Italian army remove a World War Two bomb that was discovered in the dried-up River Po
‘The bomb was found by fishermen on the bank of the River Po due to a decrease in water levels caused by drought,’ Colonel Marco Nasi said
Military experts defused and carried out a controlled explosion on Sunday of the 450-kg (1,000-pound) bomb
Drought and unusually hot weather have raised the salt levels in Italy’s largest delta which is killing rice fields
‘The bomb was found by fishermen on the bank of the River Po due to a decrease in water levels caused by drought,’ Colonel Marco Nasi said.
About 3,000 people living nearby were evacuated for the disposal operation, the army said. The area’s airspace was shut down, and navigation along that stretch of the waterway as well as traffic on a railway line and state road close by were halted.
‘At first, some of the inhabitants said they would not move, but in the last few days, we think we have persuaded everyone,’ said Borgo Virgilio’s mayor, Francesco Aporti, adding that if people had refused to go, operations would have been halted.
Bomb disposal engineers removed the fuse from the U.S.-manufactured device, which the army said contained 530 pounds of explosive.
Then the bomb squad, escorted by police, transferred the device to a quarry in Medole municipality about 30 miles away, where it was destroyed.
The drought and hot weather have also raised the salinity in Italy’s largest delta, where the Po feeds into the Adriatic Sea south of Venice.
Local authorities in areas surrounding Italy’s longest river, the Po, have declared a state of emergency after levels dropped sharply
At least one-third of the stock of prized double-valve clams raised in the Po Delta have died due to high temperatures and salty water, which is also killing off plants in nearby paddies and putting at risk this year’s harvest
The increased salt is killing rice fields along with the shellfish that are a key ingredient in one of Italy’s culinary specialities: spaghetti with clams.
At least one-third of the stock of prized double-valve clams raised in the Po Delta have died off.
Plants along the banks of the Po River are wilting as they drink in water from increasingly salty aquifers and secondary waterways have dried up, shrinking amphibians and birds’ wetland homes.
‘It is evident that there is an entire system with an ecology that will have permanent problems,’ said Giancarlo Mantovani, director of Po River Basin Authority.
The amount of water entering the delta from the Po River is at an all-time low, hitting just3,350 cubic feet a second last month, due to drought conditions caused by a lack of wintertime snowpack and spring and summer rains.
That is one-tenth of annual averages. It has been nearly two months since farmers have been able to tap the river water for agriculture.
The impact may be even more lasting, as saltwater is leaching inland distances never before recorded, and seeping into aquifers, underground layers of rock that can hold water.
‘The territory around the Po is three meters below sea level, therefore there is a continual flow of saline water that is going into the aquifers,’ Mantovani said. ‘We are therefore not only creating an agricultural problem, a human problem, but also an environmental problem. … This is a perfect storm.’