Firefighters battled wildfires in Spain and Portugal on Tuesday as Western Europe faced a second heatwave in less than a month that threatened glaciers in the Alps and worsened drought conditions.
The mass of hot air that pushed temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) across much of the Iberian Peninsula since Sunday was expected to spread north and east in the coming days.
“We expect the situation to worsen,” Claire Nullis, spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, said at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
“This heat is accompanied by a drought. We have very, very dry soils right now,” she said.
“Glaciers in the Alps are really punished now. It was a very bad season for glaciers. And we still have a relatively early summer.
Last week, an avalanche caused by the collapse of the largest glacier in the Italian Alps amid unusually high temperatures killed 11 people.
Heatwaves have become more frequent due to climate change, scientists say. As global temperatures rise over time, heatwaves are expected to become more intense.
In Spain, about 300 firefighters, supported by 17 planes and helicopters, have been fighting a wildfire in the eastern region of Extremadura that has devastated 2,500 hectares of land, according to local authorities.
Speaking in Parliament, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised “more resources” to fight wildfires fueled by “the climate emergency the planet is going through.”
“This is Hell”
Temperatures in Spain are forecast to continue rising until Thursday, with the Guadalquivir Valley in Seville to the south expected to reach a maximum of 44 degrees Celsius.
The Spanish Ministry of Health has warned that “intense heat” could affect people’s “vital functions” and cause problems such as heat stroke.
People were advised to drink water more often, wear light clothing and “stay as long as possible” in the shade or in air-conditioned areas.
“This is hell,” said Dania Arteaga, a 43-year-old cleaner at a store in central Madrid, her forehead covered in sweat.
In neighboring Portugal, firefighters have been fighting a blaze that has destroyed about 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of land in the central municipality of Ourem since Thursday.
On Monday, the fire was contained, but on Tuesday morning it flared up again.
As temperatures across much of the country hit 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called for “maximum caution.”
The government has declared “fire regulations” across the country through at least Friday, raising the level of preparedness for firefighters, police and emergency medical services.
The current situation brings back memories of the devastating wildfires of 2017 that killed more than 100 people in Portugal.
Local authorities in the city of Sintra near Lisbon have closed a number of tourist attractions, such as palaces and monuments in the green mountain range, popular with visitors as a precautionary measure.
In France, temperatures that reached 30 Celsius on Monday across much of the country could rise to 39 Celsius in some areas on Tuesday, national meteorological service Météo France predicts.
Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne called on all government ministers to be prepared to deal with the effects of the heat wave, which is forecast to last up to 10 days.
“The heat very quickly affects the health of people, especially the most vulnerable,” her office said in a statement.
The UK has issued an extreme heat warning as temperatures in the southeast of the country are forecast to reach 35 degrees Celsius in the coming days.
The extreme heat warning has been classified as “yellow”, the second highest level of danger, indicating a “major impact” on daily life and people.