Thousands flee homes as raging wildfire chars France's wine country

·3 min read

Firefighters from around Europe started pouring into France on Friday to help the country's beleaguered crews battle blazes that have charred dozens of square miles and forced thousands of people from their homes. As CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reports, a towering wall of flames in southwest France and official drought declarations in England are burning reminders that one of Europe's hottest, driest summers in decades is nowhere near over The renowned Bordeaux wine region is being scorched. The fire there — France's biggest, in the Gironde region and neighboring Landes — has reduced about 30 square miles to ash and cinder since Tuesday. It has forced some 10,000 people to flee their homes.

This photo provided by the fire brigade of France's Gironde region shows firefighters tackling a wildfire near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, southwest France, early on August 12, 2022. / Credit: Handout/SDIS 33 via AP
This photo provided by the fire brigade of France's Gironde region shows firefighters tackling a wildfire near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, southwest France, early on August 12, 2022. / Credit: Handout/SDIS 33 via AP

Neighbors Germany, Romania, Poland and Austria have deployed almost 400 of their own firefighters and 100 vehicles to France to join the more than 1,000 French firefighters already battling the blaze.

It's a battle of man against nature that rages day and night, and as Inocencio reports, it's the second time crews have been forced to fight it in two months, after far-reaching fires that hit the region in July reignited about a week ago amid tinder-dry conditions. Southern France, like much of Europe, has seen historically low rainfall this summer.

Dead fish lay on the dried-up bed of the river Tille in Lux, France, August 9, 2022. Burgundy, home to the source of the Seine river that runs through Paris, is normally a very green region, but not this year. / Credit: Nicholas Garriga/AP
Dead fish lay on the dried-up bed of the river Tille in Lux, France, August 9, 2022. Burgundy, home to the source of the Seine river that runs through Paris, is normally a very green region, but not this year. / Credit: Nicholas Garriga/AP

In France's central Burgundy region, river levels just keep dropping, leaving fish to bake to a crisp on cracked riverbeds in the summer sun. Just to the south, in Spain, wisps of smoke drift over parched hillsides and then turn into soaring plumes over teams of firefighters that look like ants as they attack a roaring giant of a blaze that will not stop. And overnight in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were nearly a week into battling an inferno tearing through a national park, dumping water by plane and helicopter.

Even in England, a country not used to dealing with large wildfires, bales of hay have caught fire like matchsticks in parched farm fields and drought conditions have forced farmers to dip into their winter feed to keep their livestock going. It may only be August, but the grass on the ground is too dry to provide the animals the nutrients they need. "I've lived here all my life. I'm 24 and I've never seen it so dry," Bizza Walters, a farmer and rural advisor told CBS News. "It makes me worry that if I'm still here in 20, 30, 40 years' time, what the farm is going to look like then."

As Inocencio stood Friday in London's Richmond Park, a sprawling oasis home to a huge herd of deer that's three times the size of New York's Central Park, he was surrounded by brown grass. As he went on the air, British authorities took the long-expected move of declaring official droughts across huge parts of southern, central and eastern England.

"All water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are still safe," Water Minister Steve Double said in a statement. "We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation, including impacts on farmers and the environment, and take further action as needed." 

Many areas are already under restrictions that ban the use of garden hoses in England.

Forecasters do see a glimmer of hope, with many areas across the parched European landscape expecting showers or even thunderstorms early next week. But that rain and any relief it brings is likely to be isolated, and some areas won't get any.

By and large, the hot, dry conditions aren't expected to let up any time soon.

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