Firefighters struggle to contain out of control wildfires in France and Spain as Europe wilts under an unusually extreme heat wave that authorities have linked to an increase in the excessive death rate.
Two massive fires that ravaged pine forests for six days just south of the city of Bordeaux in southwestern France have led to the evacuation of some 14,000 people, many of whom would spend their holidays at campsites.
In Spain, firefighters, supported by the armed forces’ emergency brigades, are trying to eradicate more than 30 wildfires across the country.
Spain’s national defense ministry said “the majority” of its firefighting aircraft have been deployed as many areas are rugged, hilly terrain that makes it difficult for ground personnel to access.
So far there have been no fire-related deaths in France or Spain. In Portugal, the pilot of a fire-fighting plane was killed on Friday when his plane crashed.
But as temperatures remain unusually high, heat-related deaths have soared.
In Spain, the second heat wave of the summer has kept temperatures above 40C in many areas.
According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related deaths daily, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-14, compared with 25 temperature-related deaths in the previous five days.
In France, a forest fire in La Teste-de-Buch near the Atlantic coast has displaced 10,000 people.
The Gironde regional government said on Sunday that “the situation remains unfavorable” due to wind gusts that, combined with warm and dry conditions, have caused more flare-ups at night.
A second fire near the town of Landiras, south of a valley of vineyards in Bordeaux, has forced authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week, including some 1,900 on Saturday.
Authorities said one flank has been brought under control by the dumping of white sand along a 2km stretch. Another flank, however, remains unchecked.
Some of the most worrying fires in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y Leon.
Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced a joint command that will take over efforts to fight the fires active in neighboring regions.
Firefighters have been unable to stop the advance of a fire that broke out near the town of Caceres, which threatens the Monfrague National Park and has prevented 200 people from returning to their homes.
A new fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga has resulted in the evacuation of another 2,500 people. There are more fires near the central city of Avila, in northwestern Galicia, among others.
Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete also fought wildfires this week, as did Morocco and California.
The scorching temperatures have reached as far north as the UK, where the Met Office weather agency has issued its first-ever “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England can reach 40C for the first time.
That will still be relatively bearable compared to the 47C recorded Wednesday in Portugal’s northern city of Pinhao, setting a new national record.