NIMES, France (Reuters) – France will have wildfire-fighting troops and their water-carrying aircraft ready on June 1, one month earlier than usual, to adapt to fires starting earlier than in the past due to climate change, a senior official said.

An unusually dry winter has reduced moisture in the soil and raised fears of a repeat of 2022, when 785,000 hectares were destroyed across Europe – more than double the annual average for the past 16 years.

“Last year we had wildfires as early as June, so we decided … to mobilise the troops to the maximum, and that the aircraft and ground troops be fully ready on June 1st, ” said civil security general inspector Francois Peny, speaking at an airbase in Nimes, in southwestern France.

“It’s one month earlier than in the past,” he said. “This is a very clear sign of climate change.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said earlier this month, amid France’s first major blaze this year at the border with Spain, that the country was headed for “an extremely difficult summer 2023, possibly as difficult as summer 2022.”

Some districts in southern France have already introduced water restrictions and the geological institute has said that low groundwater reserves could herald an even worse drought this summer.

Spain is bracing for temperatures as high as 40C that are forecast to shatter records for April.

(Reporting by Lucien Libert; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

A Canadair CL-415 aircraft drops water during the presentation of the 2023 plan to fight against wildfires, at Nimes-Garons airbase, France, April 25, 2023. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann