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Thousands flee homes as wildfires rage across Europe

“It’s heartbreaking to see such beautiful thing go up in smoke and we’re powerless,” one farmer told NBC News.
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GIRONDE, France — Firefighters in southwestern France battled on Saturday to contain massive wildfires that have spread to an area twice the size of Paris as blazes across the continent continued to rage.

After more than a week of round-the-clock battling against ferocious flames by more than 1,000 firefighters and up to four water-dropping planes, officials said two major wildfires in the tinder-dry pine forests in southwestern France had been contained but were not extinguished.

In the country's wine region of Bordeaux, more than 50,000 acres of land have been destroyed, the local authority for the Gironde Department said in a statement Saturday.

It added that 36,750 people had been evacuated from the region, although 12,000 had since been allowed to return. An additional 4,000 would be allowed to return to their homes on Saturday, the statement said.

“The problem is wind, temperatures and the forest. Forest and very low humidity is a problem,” Lt. Col Éric Florensan, a firefighter, told NBC News Thursday at a fire control center in Langon.

The flames were “exceptional,” he said.

Farmers also pitched in using their water trucks to fill up fire engines on the front lines.

“We rally, we try to help as much as we can. We have the equipment,” one farmer, Kevin Mouragnon, told NBC News Thursday in a cordoned-off area in the Hostens commune.

A firefighter works in Gironde
A firefighter works in the Gironde region of southwestern France on Monday.Philippe Lopez / Pool/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s heartbreaking to see such a beautiful thing go up in smoke and we’re powerless,” he said, adding that it was “really sad and makes you feel powerless. You take these big trucks and put it out and it comes back.”

Elsewhere, wildfires have ripped through swaths of land across dozens of countries in Europe this week as the continent swelters under an extreme heat wave.

In Spain, some of the 11,000 people who evacuated because of the fires began to return home, and a major highway in the north-western Zamora province reopened after two days.

And on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos, residents were evacuated Saturday as a wildfire, which started in mountainous forests, threatened properties at the beach resort of Vatera. Thick billowing smoke fanned by strong winds could be seen in the area.

Wildfires have also broken out in Italy, Poland and Slovenia, where authorities issued their highest weather alerts this week, and firefighters continue to battle blazes in Portugal. The U.K. and France both recorded record-high temperatures on Tuesday.

Experts have linked the extreme temperatures in Europe to climate change.

European Union officials in early July warned the unusually hot and dry summer was the result of climate change, urging local authorities to brace for wildfires.

More recently, they have called on the 27-nation bloc to coordinate better responses to the effects of climate change.

“Europe must act in a coordinated and rapid manner to reverse the climate crisis,” Greek government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou said Thursday. Firefighters in his country have also been battling wildfires this week.

“The solution cannot be given at a national level, because the problem is transnational and huge,” he added.

Elizabeth Kuhr and Meagan Fitzgerald reported from Gironde, France. Rhoda Kwan reported from Taipei, Taiwan.