Europe tallying cost of heatwave as French fires brought under control

Europe calculated the cost of a record heat wave on Wednesday as French firefighters brought two fires under control near Bordeaux and climate change protesters pointed to sizzling weather as a wake-up call for the continent.

Temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) in previous days have caused suffering for millions of people and broken heat records, drawing attention to the impact of global warming.

Cooler air swept in on Wednesday, bringing relief to people from Portugal to the UK, but thousands of firefighters continued to fight the massive fires that have flared up in many countries in recent days after months of dry conditions.

“Our assessment is generally positive. The situation improved overnight,” French fire brigade spokesman Arnaud Mendousse, from the southwestern Gironde region, where two huge fires have engulfed 20,600 acres (50,900 acres) of dry forest since last week, told AFP.

The flames barely expanded overnight, and cooler temperatures and the construction of a 300-meter-wide firebreak helped stop the flames from spreading.

President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to arrive later Wednesday to speak with emergency responders and some of the 37,000 people who have been evacuated to the popular Atlantic Ocean region, which rallies with tourists during the summer months.

Two firefighters were critically injured overnight, government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters.

Separate fires in the Mont-d’Arré region in northwest Brittany continued to rage on Wednesday as aircraft dropped water from above.

Greek planes and helicopters also battled a wildfire that forced hundreds of people to flee the mountainous suburbs north of Athens.

Greece was spared the scorching heat experienced in Western Europe, but flames fanned by strong winds threatened the suburbs of Penteli, Pallini, Anthousa and Gerakas, where tens of thousands of people live.

“The civil protection authority was late with the warning,” a resident of Pallini, who lost his car and burned to death, told ERT. “The fire burned our backs, we left at the very last moment. If we had stayed another 30 seconds, it would have burned us.”

In recent weeks, firefighters have also been involved in fighting wildfires in Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Thermal records

The heatwave has led to multiple local records being set in France and a new record for the UK, where the National Weather Service recorded 40.3°C in eastern England, surpassing the previous high set in 2019.

Pasture fires broke out on the outskirts of London on Tuesday, one of which forced the evacuation of 14 people as the blaze engulfed outbuildings, houses and garages.

Sixteen firefighters were injured in the capital, with two of them hospitalized, according to the London Fire Brigade.

“Yesterday was the busiest day for the fire department in London since World War II,” Mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News Wednesday, urging the public to remain vigilant despite temperatures now dropping.

Khan also accused the Conservative leadership candidates running for Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ignoring the elephant in the room on climate change.

On Wednesday, climate change demonstrators caused a traffic jam on the UK’s busiest motorway, surrounding London, as they sought to highlight the need for more action to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Members of the Just Stop Oil group climbed onto overpasses over the M25 trunk highway, causing the police to intervene and the cars to reverse for several miles (kilometers) in one direction.

“This is the moment when climate inaction is truly being revealed in all its deadly glory for all to see: as an elite-driven death project that will wipe out all life if we allow it,” the activist group said in a statement.