Forest fires rage across Europe as heatwave raises temperatures | forest fires

Firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco are fighting wildfires that rage across tens of thousands of hectares, as this week’s heat wave has brought extreme temperatures and killed hundreds in southwestern Europe.

The second heat wave of the summer – with temperatures reaching 47C (116F) in Portugal and 45C in Spain – has sparked wildfires that have forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

In Portugal, the Meteorological Institute has forecast temperatures of up to 42C for next week without delay. However, civil defense authorities took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a record 47°C in July on Thursday to try to stamp out a remaining major fire in the north of the country.

“The risk of fires remains very high,” the head of civil defense Andre Fernandes said, although media reports said the number of active fires on the mainland had fallen to 11 from 20 previously.

“This is a weekend of extreme vigilance,” he added after a week in which two people were killed and more than 60 injured, and up to 15,000 hectares of forest and undergrowth burned.

In Portugal, a total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) were ravaged by wildfires from the beginning of the year to mid-June, more than triple the area during the same period last year, data from the Institute for Conservation of Nature and Forests showed.

The Lisbon government would decide on Sunday whether to extend the week-long state of emergency. The Portuguese Ministry of Health said 238 people have died as a result of the July 7-13 heat wave, most of them elderly with underlying conditions.

In Spainthe state meteorological agency maintained several alert levels across the country and warned of temperatures as high as 44°C in some regions.

Dozens of wildfires raged Saturday in various parts of the country, from the blistering south to Galicia in the far northwest, where fires ravaged up to 3,500 hectares, the Galician regional government said.

A fire in the south caused authorities to shut down part of a major highway connecting Madrid to the Portuguese capital Lisbon for more than 12 hours before reopening.

The fires have scorched thousands of acres in Spain’s southwestern region of Extremadura, while a blaze near the southern city of Málaga forced the preventive evacuation of more than 3,000 people, rescue services said.

A 60-year-old street sweeper died after heatstroke while working in Madrid on Friday afternoon, prompting the city council to announce flexible working hours so that council workers can avoid the hottest times of the day.

Figures from the Spanish health institute Carlos III show that 360 people were killed as a result of the heat between last Sunday and Friday. 123 people died on Friday alone.

A cloud of black smoke rises near the Pyla Dune in the Arcachon Basin in southwestern France
A cloud of black smoke rises near the Pyla Dune in the Arcachon Basin in southwestern France. Photo: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

Firefighters in the coastal town of Arcachon in FranceThe southwestern Gironde region has been fighting to contain two wildfires that have destroyed more than 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) this week.

“It’s a huge job,” said Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Chavatte of the fire and rescue service, which has 1,200 firefighters and five planes in action.

Since Tuesday, more than 14,000 people in France — both residents and tourists — have been forced to flee and seven emergency shelters have been set up to accommodate evacuees.

Météo-France predicts temperatures of up to 41C in parts of southern France and up to 35C in the northwest on Sunday, with new heat records set for Monday.

On Saturday, France placed a further 22 departments, mainly along the Atlantic coast, on high orange alert, bringing the total to 38.

Authorities in the French Alps urged climbers heading to Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rock falls caused by “exceptional climatic conditions” and drought.

The call came after part of Italy’s largest glacier collapsed at the beginning of the month, killing 11 people in a disaster that officials blamed on climate warming.

A forest fire burns near Carballeda de Valdeorras, Galicia, Spain
A forest fire burns Saturday near Carballeda de Valdeorras in Galicia, Spain. Photo: Brais Lorenzo/EPA

In Greececivil defense rushed to extinguish the flames on the Mediterranean island of Crete, while Morocco fought a forest fire in the northern mountains that killed at least one person and forced more than 1,000 families to be evacuated.

The battle against the flames has claimed the lives of a number of personnel, from a pilot who died when his plane crashed in northern Portugal to two who died in Greece when their helicopter fell into the sea.

The fires have been fueled by extreme temperatures that experts attribute to the climate crisis. Croatia and Hungary have also had wildfires this week, as has the US state of California.

Ministers in the UK Cobra held an emergency meeting on Saturday after the meteorological agency issued its first-ever “red” warning of extreme heat, warning there is a “risk to life.”

The Met Office said temperatures in southern England could rise above 40°C for the first time on Monday or Tuesday, leading some schools to say they will remain closed next week.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan advised Londoners to use public transport only if it was “absolutely necessary”. National train operators also warned passengers to avoid travel.

Four people who had helped firefighters fight a wildfire in the U.S state of New Mexico was killed late Saturday when the helicopter belonging to the sheriff’s department in which they were traveling crashed.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

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