While all of Western Europe is suffocating under the extreme heat, the United Kingdom exceeding 40°C for the first time in its history, Météo-France lifted the red heat wave vigilance early on Tuesday on the 15 departments of the Atlantic coast where maximum alert was in effect.

At the end of the afternoon, 58 departments remained on orange vigilance and 11 on yellow vigilance over a large eastern half of the country, with rising temperatures, between 37 and 40°C in the East, and locally violent thunderstorms expected in several regions.

It is the Southwest that has suffered the worst consequences, with two gigantic fires in Gironde which have burned more than 19,000 hectares of forest since July 12. Driven by the wind, the smoke was felt overnight as far as Bordeaux and even further north.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters from all over France, supported by significant air resources, are mobilized against the two fires which burned 6,500 hectares of forest in La Teste-de-Buch near Arcachon, and 12,800 in Landiras, 50 km to the east, where a man was taken into custody, the investigation heading towards “a deliberately malicious act”. In seven days, these two fires forced the evacuation of 37,000 people.

Like the occupants of “Flots bleus” (in fact “La dune”), the setting for the very popular “Camping” film series at the foot of the Pilat dune, a good part of which did not resist the flames. At the entrance, the effigy of the character of Patrick Chirac is still standing. But a little further, as if echoing the warning of its famous namesake, “our house is burning”, the bungalows are gutted, vehicles burnt out, the toilet building devastated.

“Everything that should have burned has burned. Now what interests us is to avoid any resumption of fire in the massif”, underlines Commander Matthieu Jomain, spokesman for the fire brigade.

The fires have reached unaccustomed regions, such as Brittany. Nearly 1,400 hectares of vegetation went up in smoke in the Monts d’Arrée (Finistère) where 500 people were evacuated, a few hours after the historic heat records recorded in all the Breton departments.

The world-renowned Burgundy vineyard has also experienced scares. About ten hectares of pines burned above the vines of Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Not far away, in Dijon, Pauline Louis took refuge in the relative coolness of the Notre-Dame church, a Gothic masterpiece. “We are better off here” to “breathe a little”, blows the 62-year-old Belgian tourist. From north to south, the municipalities open their cool or air-conditioned places, such as an ice rink in Gap, or the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille.

The whole country is on alert. Closed forest areas in the Bouches-du-Rhône, as are the forest roads in Ile-de-France, Normandy and Hauts-de-France, where more than 250 hectares have burned since June 20 in the single department of Oise.

“Climate change amplifies the parameters favorable to fires: drought, wind, high temperatures weaken the forests which suffer”, underlined on France Inter Françoise Alriq, deputy director of the federation of forest municipalities of France.

– Amplitude – 

The figures speak for themselves: according to Météo-France, we are in the 45th heat wave in mainland France since 1947, and their pace is accelerating.

Over the last 35 years, they have been three times more numerous than over the previous 35 years.

Since 2010, only 2014 has been spared and the current wave is already the second this year, after the very early and intense episode of June.

The average maximum temperature on Monday in France (in 30 reference stations throughout the territory) was the second highest ever recorded, with 37.6°C, after August 5, 2003, which had peaked at 37.7° C, in the heart of a historic and deadly heat wave.

The thermometer rose to 42.6°C in Biscarrosse, in the Landes. A total of 64 absolute heat records fell, mainly along the Atlantic coast, as far as Seine-Maritime where 38.2°C were reached at Cap de la Hève, north of Le Havre.

“It was unfortunately something expected,” said AFP Matthieu Sorel, climatologist at Météo-France. But for the specialist, even more than the number, “what is significant is the amplitude” between old and new records. “Plus four degrees in Brest, it’s colossal”. At the tip of Brittany the mercury has indeed soared, from 35.1°C in August 2003 to 39.3°C on Monday.