“It’s the first time we’ve seen a fire like this,” firefighter Jérôme Jean told France’s BFM channel. Some residents were forced to escape to their rooftops, the BBC reported.
The wildfire comes amid an especially hot summer in France and across Europe, as well as a record-breaking drought. Over the past two months, temperatures have soared to 104 Fahrenheit in the southwest, home to the Bordeaux wine region.
In recent days, thick clouds of smoke have towered over the area’s beaches and highways, prompting local authorities to close the A63 motorway linking Bordeaux with northern Spain.
The fire initially began in July, France’s driest month since 1961, France24 reported. It burned through 34,000 acres and continued to smolder in the region’s dry pine forests, the network said, adding that officials suspect arson may have contributed to the most recent flare-up.
Sweltering heat and strong winds have since created a tinderbox effect, experts say, hampering efforts to beat back the flames.
Extreme drought in much of Europe has also parched the landscape, helping ignite an estimated 264 fires across France this year alone, according to data collected by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).
“The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,” the mayor of the French town of Hostens, Jean-Louis Dartiailh, told Radio Classique, Reuters reported.
“[This fire] is the final straw,” he said.