Heatwave alert across south-west
Six departments are worst affected but another six could feel temperatures rising to 40C and 21C at night / Forest fire rages near Lacanau
A BLAST of hot Saharan air has sparked a heatwave alert in the south-west of France with weather forecasters warning of temperatures reaching up to 39C today and nudging 30C across much of the country.
Prefects in six departments have set Level 2 heatwave alerts to help protect old people and children and these came into force for Tarn-et-Garonne and Lot-et-Garonne yesterday afternoon and this morning for Gers, Haute-Garonne, Lot and Tarn.
The alert comes as a forest fire burns out of control near the Gironde seaside resort of Lacanau driving by strong winds and the heat which has dried the woodland.
Health Minister Marisol Touraine said the Plan canicule was to help at-risk populations and avoid a repeat of the 2003 heatwave where as many as 15,000 may have died. But she said it was precautionary and added: "We must be careful not to panic people and yet raise awareness that when temperatures rise, there are precautions to be taken."
She said people should remember to drink regularly without waiting to be thirsty, bathe regularly or at least freshen up their bodies, keep in touch with friends and family, avoid going out or exercising in the hottest parts of the day - between 11.00 and 21.00 - and keep shutters and windows closed during the day and open at night when it is cooler.
Météo France said Midi-Pyrénées was the main region affected but as well as the six departments on orange canicule alert, another 23 neighbouring departments are on a yellow precautionary alert. More departments in the centre of France could come under orange alert over the next few days.
The heatwave could top 40C over the next 72 hours with 35C in many areas and there will be little respite at night as temperatures could stay as high as 21C across the "Grand Sud". There is little prospect of major change in temperatures until next Thursday - although Normandy and Brittany will have some cloud cover.
Hospitals and old folk's homes are taking special precautions with some setting up cool rooms for patients and residents, installing mobile air-conditioning units - Toulouse CHU, for example, has 500 mobile A/C units and 900 fans in the older parts of its buildings - and taking on more auxiliary staff.
The change in weather has been caused by the high altitude jet stream heading north over Europe and dragging hot north African air over the continent. So far this summer the jet stream has been sitting nearer the equator and caused intense low-pressure systems over northern Europe and the UK's rainy summer.
As people turn up the air conditioning power supplier EDF is expecting power consumption to rise by 2.4GW today to 42.7GW.
* In Lacanau, more than 200 soldiers and firefights have been battling the fire that has raged across 450 hectares of pine forest.
One pompier has already been seriously injured and taken to hospital after being hit by a burning branch.
The fire started on the verge of the RD6 between Lacanau and Lacanau Océan beach and four Canadair water-bomber aircraft have been brought in to try to bring it under control.
Firefighters have faced difficulties in trying to get the upper hand due to the constandly switching wind direction.
Photo: morane - Fotolia.com