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People in Ile-de-France can smell smoke of Gironde fires 500kms away

Firefighters in the capital have urged residents not to worry unduly. Gironde’s prefect says that the department is today ‘starting to see results’ from effective new firewalls

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 Pic: FCG / Shutterstock

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. 

Read more: France wildfires rage on: 20,000 hectares burnt, one arrest made

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.

“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.” 

Read more: Photos: Saharan sand turns skies orange in southwest France

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.

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. 

“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. 

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.

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