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Thousands flee home as wildfires rage across Europe

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GIRONDE, France — Firefighters in southwestern France battled Saturday to contain massive wildfires that have spread to an area twice the size of Paris, as fires continued to rage across the continent.

After more than a week battling intense flames 24 hours a day by more than 1,000 firefighters and up to four water-dripping planes, officials said two large wildfires in the tinder-dry pine forests of southwestern France were under control but not extinguished.

More than 50,000 hectares of land have been destroyed in the Bordeaux wine region, the local government of the Gironde department said in a statement. pronunciation Saturday.

It added that 36,750 people had been evacuated from the region, though 12,000 have since been allowed to return. Another 4,000 would be allowed to return to their homes on Saturday, the statement said.

“The problem is wind, temperatures and the forest. Forest and very low humidity are a problem,” Lieutenant Colonel Éric Florensan, a firefighter, told NBC News on Thursday at a fire control center in Langon.

The flames were “exceptional,” he said.

Farmers also went out of their way to use their water trucks to fill fire trucks on the front lines.

“We collect, we try to help as much as possible. We have the equipment,” a farmer, Kevin Mouragnon, told NBC News on Thursday in a cordoned off area in the municipality of Hostens.

A firefighter is at work Monday in the Gironde region of southwestern France.Philippe Lopez / Pool/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s heartbreaking to see something so beautiful go up in smoke and we’re powerless,” he said, adding that it’s “really sad and makes you feel powerless. You take these big trucks and turn it off and it comes back.” “

Elsewhere this week, wildfires in dozens of countries across Europe have ripped through swaths of land as the continent smothers under an extreme heat wave.

In Spain, some of the 11,000 people evacuated because of the fires have begun to return home, and a major highway in the northwestern province of Zamora reopened after two days.

And on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos, residents were evacuated on Saturday as a wildfire, which started in mountainous forests, threatened properties in the seaside town of Vatera. Thick billowing smoke was seen in the area, fanned by the high winds.

Wildfires have also broken out in Italy, Poland and Slovenia, where authorities issued their highest weather warnings this week, and firefighters continue to fight fires in Portugal. The UK and France both registered record high temperatures on Tuesday.

Experts have linked Europe’s extreme temperatures to climate change.

European Union officials warned in early July that the unusually hot and dry summer was the result of climate change and urged local authorities to brace for wildfires.

More recently, they have called on the 27-nation bloc to coordinate better responses to the effects of climate change.

“Europe must act in a coordinated and swift manner to reverse the climate crisis,” Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said on Thursday. Firefighters in his country also fought wildfires this week.

“The solution cannot be given at the national level because the problem is transnational and huge,” he added.

Elizabeth Kuhr and Meagan Fitzgerald reported from Gironde, France. Rhoda Kwan reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

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