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Heatwave in France: 11 departments on red alert as temperatures peak

Driving restrictions have been brought in in some of the worst affected areas as well as temporary bans on protests, no obligatory school attendance and the cancellation of cultural events

France’s heatwave is set to peak today (June 18) Pic: Ed Connor / Shutterstock & Météo-France

There are now 11 departments on heatwave red alert in France after Météo-France downgraded three departments. 

There are a further 58 departments on orange alert. 

The departments on red alert are:

Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées, Charente, Charente-Maritime, Gers, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Deux-Sèvres, Vendée, Vienne.

Read more: Heatwave in France: Ten places where records for June have been beaten

What do red and orange alerts mean?

The alert system is part of France’s annual ‘plan canicule’, a system set up to manage heatwaves.

Read more: Explainer: France’s ‘heatwave plan’ and how it may affect residents

Red alert means that there is an extreme heatwave and that people should be extremely careful.

This level is announced only during exceptional, very intense and long-lasting heatwaves. 

During a red-alert heatwave, there are often droughts, issues with the supply of drinking water, high demand for hospitals and / or funeral homes become overrun, there are power cuts and forest fires, working hours or practices are adjusted, etc. 

The government will set up an inter-ministerial crisis group to help manage the heatwave. 

Special provisions will be made to take care of vulnerable people, including homeless people and those in retirement homes. 

Orange alert

Once this level is reached, the department's local prefect takes all necessary measures to address the heatwave, in accordance with the Plan de Gestion d’une Canicule Départemental (PGCD). The following steps are usually taken:

  • Communication is increased to make people aware of the dangers of heatwaves and what they can do
  • In retirement homes, a “plan bleu” can be announced, which involves greater mobilisation of staff and resources to counter specific threats generally, for example Covid, an outbreak of flu, as well as heatwaves / other
  • Ambulance and nursing services are mobilised
  • Mairies establish lists of people vulnerable to heatwaves and can offer support
  • Additional support is given to homeless people

Starting from June 1 every year, all French departments are automatically placed on green alert for heatwaves. This means that there are no particular concerns.

From this point, national and local relevant authorities start to ensure that they are prepared for heatwaves. Simultaneously, Météo-France begins its surveillance of heatwaves and a national helpline to provide information is opened. 

The number is 0800 06 66 66 and is open Monday to Saturday, 09:00 to 21:00. It is free to call from landlines while your usual mobile costs apply. 

Consequences of the heatwave

Several new rules, restrictions and cancellations have been brought in in response to the heatwave. 

Temporary ban on indoor and outdoor protests / events

The Nouvelle-Aquitaine prefecture has temporarily suspended indoor and outdoor protests, as well as sporting or festive events in five departments: Gironde, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne, Charente, Lot-et-Garonne. 

In Vendée (Pays de la Loire), all outdoor sporting events are suspended between 10:00 and 19:00 today (June 18). 

In Tarn-et-Garonne and Gers (Occitanie), authorities have asked organisers of sporting events or markets, etc. to postpone the events.

In Charente-Maritime (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) the Freemusic Festival has been cancelled. 

The Appeal of 18 June

Ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the Appeal of 18 June, the first speech made by Charles de Gaulle after his arrival in London in 1940, are being cancelled, postponed or rearranged in many parts of the south-west of France. 

The ceremonies are cancelled throughout Lot-et-Garonne. In Gironde they have been pushed back to Sunday, weather permitting. 

In Fontenay-le-Comte (Vendée), Deux-Sèvres and Vienne authorities have asked that the ceremonies take place in the early morning only. 

Schools off

France's ministry of education stated that school pupils in primary or collège level do not need to go to school in the departments where the red alert has been declared. 

Pollution build-up leads to driving restrictions

Speed limits have been lowered in several parts of France to contend with higher pollution rates linked to the heatwave. 

Paris / Ile-de-France

Only vehicles with a class 0, 1 and 2 Crit'Air sticker are allowed to drive on Saturday (until midnight) in Paris, the inner and outer suburbs (within the perimeter of the A86 motorway).

Reductions in the maximum speed limit have also been introduced: 110 km/h on motorways normally limited to 130 km/h, 90 km/h on sections of motorways or expressways normally limited to 110 km/h and 70 km/h on sections of motorways and expressways normally limited to 90 km/h as well as on national and departmental roads limited to 80km/h or 90km/h.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

The prefecture of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has also introduced restrictions for today. 

Only vehicles with a class 0, 1, 2 and 3 Crit'Air sticker will be allowed to drive in 

Lyon, Villeurbanne, Caluire-et-Cuire, Bourgoin-Jallieu, Chasse-sur-Rhône, Isle-d'Abeau, Pont-Evêque, Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Vaulx-Milieu, La Verpillère, Vienne, Villefontaine and Seyssuel. 

This rule does not apply to the A7, A7 Nord, A43, A48, A49 motorways or the RN7.

In addition, the maximum speed will also be lowered by 20km/h in the greater Lyon area on roads where the speed is usually 80km/h or more

Hauts-de-France

The speed limit has been reduced by 20km/h and vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are limited to 80 km/h in Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Oise and Somme.

Related stories

Explainer: France’s ‘heatwave plan’ and how it may affect residents

How hot will France’s heatwave be and how long will it last?

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