French region orders harvest standstill after fields burn in heatwave

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PARIS (Reuters) - Farmers have been ordered to stop harvesting in France’s second largest grain producing department Oise after hundreds of hectares of fields caught fire during an intense heatwave.

At least one farmer was killed during when his harvester became engulfed in one inferno, local media reported.

Harvesting is in full swing in France, the European Union’s largest grain producer and exporter, where searing temperatures this week broke records in many parts of northern France and elsewhere in western Europe.

Local authorities put an indefinite suspension on threshing in the whole of the Oise department on Thursday, citing the risk of fires and risk to the local population.

Oise is the fifth largest producing department of soft wheat in France, the main grain currently being harvested, farm ministry data showed.

It was the first time ever the authorities have ordered a halt to the harvest in Oise, FNSEA, France’s largest farm union, said.

More than 500 hectares of land caught fire on Tuesday alone in the department, a record, local fire authorities said on Twitter. Several firemen were hurt while trying to put out the fires.

Oise was one of 20 administrative departments this week placed under ‘red alert’ -- the highest warning level -- in northern France by state forecaster Meteo France. By Friday this had been downgraded to ‘yellow’, the third highest level of alert.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Valerie Parent; Editing by Richard Lough