Southwestern Europe experienced the sixth day of a summer heat wave on Saturday that sparked devastating wildfires as parts of the continent brace for new temperature records early next week.
Firefighters in France, Portugal, Spain and Greece have battled wildfires that have devastated thousands of acres of land and claimed the lives of several people since the start of the week.
This is the second heatwave to sweep southwestern Europe in weeks as scientists blame it on climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather.
The heatwave, which lasted almost a week, has led to 360 deaths in Spain, according to the Carlos III Institute of Health.
Firefighters in the coastal town of Arcachon in France’s southwest Gironde region have been battling two wildfires that have consumed more than 10,000 acres since Tuesday.
“It’s a Herculean job,” said Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Chavatte of the fire and rescue service, which employs 1,200 firefighters and five aircraft.
Additional evacuation orders for several hundred residents were issued on Saturday, firefighters spokesman Arno Menduss told AFP.
Since Tuesday, more than 14,000 people – residents and tourists combined – have been forced to leave the camp, and seven emergency shelters have been set up to receive the evacuees.
Meteo France is forecasting temperatures as high as 41 degrees Celsius in parts of southern France on Sunday, as well as up to 35 in the northwest, with new heat records expected on Monday.
France placed 22 more departments, mostly on the Atlantic coast, on high orange alert late Saturday evening, bringing the current total to 38.
Authorities in the French Alps have urged climbers heading to Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rockfalls caused by “exceptional climatic conditions” and “drought”.
The call comes after part of Italy’s largest alpine glacier collapsed earlier this month, killing 11 people in a natural disaster that officials blame on climate change.
In Portugal, the meteorological institute predicts temperatures of up to 42°C without respite until next week.
Several hundred firefighters have been working to put out two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwest France that have forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and devastated more than 7,000 hectares of land. Source: A MONKEY / AP
Civil Defence, however, took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a July record of 47°C on Thursday to try to put out the one remaining major fire in northern Portugal.
“The risk of fires remains very high,” civil defense chief Andre Fernandes warned, although media reports say the mainland’s fires are still active, down 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 acres of forest and brushwood were burned.
On Sunday, the Lisbon government had to decide whether to extend the week-long state of emergency.
In Spain, the national meteorological agency maintained varying levels of alert across the country, with temperatures as high as 44°C in some regions.
Dozens of wildfires raged on Saturday across parts of the country, from the sweltering south to Galicia in the far northwest, destroying some 3,500 hectares, the regional government said.
“So sad to see part of our natural heritage burn,” Spanish Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calvino tweeted.
One fire in the south forced authorities to cordon off a section of a key highway linking Madrid with the Portuguese capital of Lisbon for more than 12 hours before the road was reopened.
Fires have engulfed thousands of hectares in Spain’s Extremadura region, with one near the southern city of Malaga forcing the preventive evacuation of more than 3,000 people, according to emergency services.
A firefighter extinguishes a forest fire near Landiras, southwest France, on July 16, 2022. Strong winds and hot dry weather are making it difficult for French firefighters to contain a massive forest fire in the Bordeaux region. Source: A MONKEY / SDIS 33
In Greece, civil defense rushed to put out the flames raging on the Mediterranean island of Crete, while Morocco battled a deadly wildfire in its northern mountains.
In the United Kingdom, government ministers had to hold crisis talks after the state meteorological agency issued the first-ever ‘red’ warning of extreme heat, warning that there was a ‘life risk’.
The Met Office said temperatures could rise above 40°C for the first time in the south of England on Monday or Tuesday, prompting some schools to say they will remain closed next week.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has advised Londoners to use public transport only when “absolutely necessary”. National rail operators have also warned passengers to refrain from traveling.