The smell of smoke from the two giant wildfires which are still burning in the southwestern department of Gironde has been carried 500km on the wind to the Ile-de-France region.
The forest fires in La Teste-de-Buch near the Dune du Pilat and Landiras to the south of Bordeaux have collectively burnt 20,600 hectares of land at this stage, and 36,750 people have been evacuated from villages and campsites.
Impressions from the burned out camp sites at #DuneduPilat in the #Gironde region of southwestern #France. Once a popular tourist destination... now all there's left is debris. #feuxdeforet #LaTestedeBuch @MarkerJParker pic.twitter.com/aSWohZwdI9— Sira Thierij (@SiraThierij) July 19, 2022
Firefighters and police services in Paris and its surrounding departments have urged residents who smell smoke to make sure that there is a fire before calling the emergency services, as it is likely to be an effect of the Gironde fires.
It comes after the fire service received several calls yesterday evening (July 19) from people concerned by a smoke smell in the air.
Météo France forecaster Sébastien Léas told Franceinfo: “The sky is cloudy, a little hazy, and you can smell burning,” and the Paris police prefecture added: “This smell is definitely coming from the fires which are striking across France.
ℹ️ Il est possible que vous sentiez une odeur de brûlé en extérieur. Cette odeur provient certainement des feux en cours qui sévissent en France.— Préfecture de Police (@prefpolice) July 19, 2022
La raison ? La versatilité du vent.
☎️ 18 : n'encombrez pas les lignes de secours. N'appelez les pompiers qu'en cas de feu avéré. pic.twitter.com/X8FfjUCZO9
“The reason? The changeability of the wind. Do not clog up emergency phone lines. Do not call firefighters unless the presence of a fire has been proven.”
The movement of a smoky odour across France is due to the arrival of a cooler air mass from the Atlantic, which is pushing the smoke inland.
The smell is expected to fade in the coming days. “This is quite a common phenomenon,” Mr Léas said. “We see it quite regularly, with Saharan sand arriving in France, for example. And even during the violent fires in Colorado in 2021, which sent fine particulates all the way across the Atlantic.”
Is the smoke dangerous for people’s health?
In the area around the fires in Gironde, the air quality has declined from “deteriorating” (dégradée) to “bad” (mauvaise) and even to “extremely bad” (extrêmement mauvaise) in some areas.
However, Bordeaux, Limoges, Poitiers and La Rochelle are under “average” (moyen) air quality conditions, according to monitoring site Atmo Nouvelle-Aquitaine, so residents should not be seriously affected.
In regions such as Brittany, Ile-de-France, Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire, the air quality is either “good” (bonne) or “average”, so residents should not worry even if they can smell smoke.
Firefighters in areas reached by the smoke have been contacted by people worried that it could be bad for their health.
The smoke can “irritate” a healthy person’s airways, the Agence régionale de santé (ARS) has said, but they would not normally need to seek medical treatment.
However, the fumes may prove more problematic for people who have conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart failure.
In areas located very close to the fires, the population has generally been evacuated, and “in areas further away [from the flames] which are being reached by the smoke,” people are being advised to “limit time spent outside, cut down on intense physical activities carried out outside and check on vulnerable people,” the ARS has said.
“Workers carrying out physical tasks in the open air may be exposed for a long time, increasing their risk of irritation.
“Their employers are encouraged to be cautious and to engage the services of occupational health if necessary.”
In general, for forest fire smoke to be really dangerous for your health, you must be exposed to it for a long period, which would allow fine particulates to settle in your lungs, eventually causing respiratory issues.
Of course, firefighters are the most heavily exposed to the wildfires and so protect themselves with special equipment.
However, urban fires in homes or factories, for example, produce much more toxic smoke than forest fires because of the materials being burnt.
La lutte contre les flammes dans la commune de La Teste-de-Buch en Gironde a été documentée par le photographe Maxime Tuczapski pic.twitter.com/eDjtQfP1NS— Views (@viewsfrance) July 19, 2022
20,600 hectares burnt, 36,750 people evacuated
Since the two Gironde fires began last Tuesday (July 12), some 7,000 hectares of land have been destroyed around La Teste-de-Buch, and around 13,600 in Landiras.
However, the prefecture has said that the fires “progressed very little” overnight, and that there have been no new evacuations to add to the 36,750 people already moved away from the flames.
#IncendiesGironde— Préfète de Nouvelle-Aquitaine et Gironde (@PrefAquitaine33) July 20, 2022
Le feu a très près peu progressé cette nuit : au total 20 600 ha brûlés (7000 à #LaTesteDeBuch et 13600 à #Landiras).
➡️ Pas de nouvelle évacuation. Aucune victime.
➡️ D'importants moyens terrestres et aériens restent mobilisés sur le front des incendies. pic.twitter.com/OOXpmPj6Pt
“Thanks to the significant ground and air resources deployed (2,000 firefighters, eight Canadair planes, two Dash planes), the progression of the fires has been limited,” prefect Fabienne Buccio stated yesterday evening.
Yesterday, fire and rescue teams were able to create effective firewalls, and Ms Buccio said that “we are starting to see results”. Farmers also used their tractors to soak the undergrowth at the edge of woodland to prevent fires from spreading.
En Gironde, des agriculteurs viennent en aide aux pompiers en arrosant les lisières de forêts pour tenter d'endiguer la propagation du feu ! pic.twitter.com/KjpxkilH5J— Le Média Positif (@LMPositif) July 19, 2022
The 39-year-old suspect who was taken into custody yesterday as part of an investigation into the Landiras fire has been released without charge, Bordeaux’s public prosecution department has said.
President Emmanuel Macron is expected to visit Gironde later today (July 20), to meet “firefighters, public safety teams, police forces, local officials and everyone else who is mobilised”.
The Élysée Palace has denied that this is a “PR operation which would complicate even more the progress of firefighter and police work,” and it is not believed that the president will make any announcements from the scene of the fires.
A third fire which began in Vensac to the north west of Bordeaux on Monday evening (July 18) has now been extinguished. This blaze caused the evacuation of 550 people from a campsite and a nearby hamlet.