Western Europe is engulfed in forest fires: hundreds of deaths from the heat

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Wildfires raged in southwestern France, Spain and Portugal on Saturday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes as a persistent heat wave swept through Western Europe.

On Saturday afternoon, 14,000 people were evacuated from France’s Gironde region as more than 1,200 firefighters fought to bring the blaze under control, regional authorities said in a statement.

“We have a fire that will continue to spread until it stabilizes,” Vincent Ferrier, deputy prefect of Langone in the Gironde, told a press conference.

Ferocious flames have engulfed a forest in the Bordeaux region of France for five consecutive days, while wildfires in Portugal have claimed the lives of more than 160 people.

The pilot of a firefighting plane died on Friday in a crash during an operation in northeast Portugal. It was the first fatal fire in Portugal this year.

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The heatwave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to the Carlos III Health Institute.

The fire season hit parts of Europe earlier than expected as an unusually hot and dry spring caused the soil to dry out.

Firefighters, backed by water-dropping aircraft, fight fires in southern France and in Casas de Miravete in Spain’s Extremadura region. Greece sent fire-fighting equipment to help.

Firefighters from the National Republican Guard put out a forest fire in the village of Rebolo, near Anciao in central Portugal, on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Firefighters from the National Republican Guard put out a forest fire in the village of Rebolo, near Anciao in central Portugal, on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

In the latest weather alert, 38 of France’s 96 departments were placed on the “orange” list and residents in those areas were urged to be vigilant. A heat wave in the west of France is expected to peak on Monday as temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

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In neighboring Spain, firefighters battled a series of fires on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures reaching 45.7 C (114 F).

A similar scene is playing out in Portugal, where more than 3,000 firefighters fought alongside citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires raging across the country.

Firefighters have had some breathing room in Portugal, where temperatures across much of the country dropped on Saturday after hitting around 40 degrees Celsius in recent days.

“We have had big fires and we don’t want them to start again… We will be extremely vigilant this weekend,” Andre Fernandez, commander of the Office of Emergency Management and Civil Protection, told reporters.

A total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) were devastated by wildfires from the beginning of the year to mid-June, more than three times the area affected by fires during the same period last year, according to the Institute for Conservation of Nature and Forests. showed.

An area equivalent to almost two-thirds of the area burned by fires in the past week.

The Portuguese Ministry of Health reported that 238 people died as a result of the heat wave from July 7 to 13, most of them elderly people with underlying diseases.

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Across the Mediterranean from Europe, fires in Morocco have engulfed more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the northern regions of Larache, Ouazzan, Taza and Tetouan, killing at least one person, according to local authorities.

More than 1,000 households were evacuated from their villages, and by Friday evening water planes had helped put out most of the fires, although firefighters were still trying to put out three fires near Larache.

Reuters contributed to this report.