Wildfires rage across Europe’s sweltering southwest
Armies of firefighters battled blazes in France, Portugal and Spain as Britain braced for ‘extreme heat’ in the coming days and even Irish forecasters predicted a taste of scorching summer temperatures from mediterranean style
Madrid: Southwestern Europe baked in sweltering temperatures on Friday for a fifth day, with the heat sparking devastating wildfires, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people and ruining the holidays.
Armies of firefighters battled blazes in France, Portugal and Spain as Britain braced for ‘extreme heat’ in the days to come and even Irish forecasters predicted a taste of scorching summer temperatures Mediterranean style.
While French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that the authorities will do everything to mobilize resources to fight the fallout, the Bordeaux prosecutor indicated that a “criminal” origin was his main line of inquiry for at least one fire near of the southwestern city.
The furnace engulfing swaths of southwestern Europe is the second in weeks, with scientists blaming climate change and predicting more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
In Portugal, five central and northern regions – where temperatures hit a July record 47 degrees Celsius on Thursday before falling back – were on red alert again on Friday as more than 2,000 firefighters battled four major blazes.
A plane fighting forest fires in the Bragança region crashed near Vila Nova de Foz Coa in northern Portugal on Friday, killing its pilot, Civil Defense said.
Thursday evening, the fires had left one dead and around sixty injured. Nearly 900 people had been evacuated and several dozen homes damaged or destroyed, authorities said.
Wildfires have destroyed 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of land this year, the largest area since Portugal’s horrific summer of 2017, in which around 100 people died.
In neighboring Spain, where temperatures reached 37C at 7 a.m., a fire that broke out on Thursday near Monfrague National Park, a protected area renowned for wildlife in the Extremadura region, continued to rage.
Spanish authorities have reported nearly 20 fires still out of control, including one near Mijas in the deep south, inland from the regional capital Malaga, forcing some 2,300 people to evacuate their homes.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted that he was “closely following the evolution of the active fires” posing an “extreme risk”.
Mercury reached 45.4°C in Spain on Thursday, a far cry from the all-time high of 47.4°C set in August last year.
In southwestern France, the flames have destroyed some 7,700 hectares since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 11,000 people, including many holidaymakers who have decided to abandon their holidays rather than stay in makeshift shelters implemented by local authorities.
The south of France, struggling with temperatures around 40C on Friday, is bracing for more heat next week with 16 departments already in orange, a severe alert.
Across the Mediterranean, authorities said a person had been found dead in northern Morocco as wildfires raged. Authorities also evacuated hundreds of people from more than a dozen villages in northwestern Morocco.
A fire raged in pine forests near France’s Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe and a magnet for tourists.
“I’ve never seen this before and it feels like it’s post-apocalyptic,” Karyn said Thursday shortly before the preventive evacuation order from the village of Cazaux near the dune.
Fire commander Laurent Dellac spoke of “tunnels of fire” around Teste-de-Buch, in the middle of the Landes forest south-west of Bordeaux – although no one was injured.
“The fires are still not under control, and unfortunately the conditions are windy again,” firefighter spokesman Matthieu Jomain told AFP.
The UK Meteorological Agency meanwhile issued its first-ever ‘red’ warning for exceptional heat with unusually warm nights.
The Met Office said there was a 50 per cent chance on Monday or Tuesday that temperatures would top 40C for the first time, and an 80 per cent chance that the country’s previous record of 38.7C set in 2019 would be outmoded.
“Risk to Life”
UK hospitals have warned of a rise in heat-related admissions and train operators have told passengers to expect cancellations.
The Irish Met Office has issued a weather warning for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with “unusually warm weather”.
A high of 32C was possible on Monday, Met Eireann said, just below the Irish record of 33.3C set in 1887.
Belgian authorities said they expected much higher temperatures next week, with a high of 38C in parts of the country forecast for Tuesday.
Scientists attribute the increasing regularity of heat waves to global warming.
“Climate change is driving this heat wave, just as it is driving all heat waves right now,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London.
“Greenhouse gas emissions, from burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, make heat waves hotter, longer lasting and more frequent,” she said.