Heatwave scorches Europe as hundreds evacuated from wildfires

Officials issue health warnings as Europe braces for a new heatwave in the coming days.

A view of trees burning amid a wildfire near Landiras, France.
In southwestern France, wildfires have destroyed some 7,700 hectares of land since Tuesday [SDIS 33/Reuters]

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes as wildfires blistered land in France, Spain and Portugal, with officials issuing health warnings for a new heatwave in the coming days.

Temperatures were expected to top 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Europe as a slow-moving high-pressure area brings scorching air up from North Africa.

Armies of firefighters battled blazes in France, Portugal and Spain, with scientists blaming climate change and predicting more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather.

In Portugal, five regions in the centre and north – where temperatures hit a July record 47C (117F) on Thursday before dropping back – were on red alert again on Friday as more than 2,000 firefighters tackled four major blazes.

A plane that was battling forest fires in the Braganca region crashed on Friday near Vila Nova de Foz Coa in northern Portugal, killing its pilot, the civil defence said.

Wildfires have destroyed 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land in the country this year, the largest area since about 100 people died in the summer of 2017.

Portugal wildfire
National Republican Guard firefighters put out a forest fire in Portugal [Armando Franca/AP]

Portuguese health minister Marta Temido said on Thursday the health system faced a “particularly worrying” week due to the heatwave and said some hospitals were overwhelmed.

Between July 7 and July 13, Portugal registered 238 excess deaths due to the heatwave, the country’s DGS health authority said.

In neighbouring Spain, where temperatures were as high as 37C (99F) by 7am on Saturday, a fire that broke out on Thursday near the Monfrague national park, a protected area renowned for wildlife in the Extremadura region, continued to blaze.

Spanish authorities reported close to 20 fires still raging out of control with one near Mijas in the deep south, inland from regional capital Malaga, forcing some 2,300 people to evacuate their homes.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted he was “closely following the evolution of active fires” posing an “extreme risk”.

Temperatures reached 45.4C in Spain on Thursday, shy of the all-time high of 47.4C (117.3F) registered in August last year.

The country registered 84 excess deaths attributed to extreme temperatures in the first three days of the heatwave, according to the National Epidemiology Centre’s database.

In southwestern France, flames have destroyed some 7,700 hectares (19,000 acres) since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 11,000 people – including many holidaymakers who decided to abandon their vacation rather than remain in makeshift shelters set up by local authorities.

The Bordeaux public prosecutor indicated a “criminal” origin was its main line of inquiry for at least one fire near the southwestern city.

Southern France, battling temperatures around 40C (104F) on Friday, is bracing for more heat next week with 16 departments already on orange, a severe alert.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised authorities would do everything to mobilise resources to fight the fallout.

Meanwhile, Britain’s weather forecaster issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday. United Kingdom hospitals have warned of a surge in heat-related admissions and train operators have told passengers to expect cancellations.

The highest recorded temperature in Britain was 38.7C (101.7F) recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.

The Irish meteorological office issued a weather warning for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with “exceptionally warm weather”.

A high of 32C was possible on Monday, the service said, just short of Ireland’s record high 33.3C (92F) set in 1887.

This comes as the worst drought in more than 70 years reduced Italy’s longest river, the Po, to little more than a trickle in places, with temperatures expected to rise next week.

Across the Mediterranean, authorities said one person was found dead in northern Morocco as forest fires raged. Authorities also evacuated hundreds of people from more than a dozen villages in northwestern Morocco.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies