France battles huge wildfires, Britain burns in record heatwave

France battles huge wildfires, Britain burns in record heatwave

  • Forest fires destroy forests in the Gironde in south-west France
  • UK temperatures surpass 40C for the first time
  • Germany and Belgium are preparing for possible record temperatures
  • More than 30 forest fires devastate parts of Spain
  • Portugal has more than 1,000 extra deaths due to heatwaves

LONDON/PARIS, July 19 (Reuters) – Firefighters in south-west France struggled to contain massive wildfires on Tuesday and Britain recorded its highest temperature on record, while Portugal reported more than 1,000 heatwave-related deaths as Europe scorched.

Southern and western Germany and Belgium also braced for potentially record-breaking temperatures as the heatwave scientists are attributing to climate change moved north and east.

Numerous forest fires have been reported in Italy. One of the largest fires broke out in the hills of Massarosa, Tuscany, on Monday evening and was still raging Tuesday afternoon.

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“The fire continues to engulf the forests in a frightening way due to the wind,” Tuscany Governor Eugenio Giani said, noting that 365 hectares (900 acres) of land had been destroyed.

Fires have also been reported in forests near Rome, as well as on the shores of Lake Orta north of Milan and near the northeastern city of Trieste.

A wildfire fueled by high winds raged in a mountainous area near houses on the outskirts of Athens, prompting authorities to order at least one area to be evacuated.

A temperature of more than 40C (104F) has been tentatively recorded for the first time in the UK, the Met Office said, and authorities have placed the UK on a ‘national state of emergency’ over the unprecedented temperatures.

Train routes from London along the country’s east and west coasts were canceled and the normally busy city centers seemed quiet. Network Rail tweeted images showing bends and kinks in the tracks.

East of the capital, a major fire engulfed homes in the village of Wennington, with flames sweeping across neighboring fields and approaching a historic church. Large areas of grass around the capital were in flames.

FIRES “UNSTABILIZED”

In south-west France, the wine-growing region of Gironde experienced its biggest wildfires in over 30 years, and authorities said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

The fires have spread to 19,300 hectares (about 75 square miles) around Bordeaux since July 12, forcing 34,000 people to flee their homes.

About 2,000 firefighters, supported by eight water bombers, fought the flames.

As human-caused climate change triggers droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 United Nations report.

“We’re seeing heatwaves more often, and the heatwaves are hotter than without climate change,” Friederike Otto, lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London, told Reuters.

The focus was on the health impact of the heatwave, with special attention given to the elderly and vulnerable.

The head of Portugal’s health agency DGS, Graça Freitas, told Reuters that from July 7 to 18, 1,063 deaths were recorded due to the above-normal heatwave.

“Portugal … is among those areas of the world that could be (more) affected by extreme heat,” Freitas said. “We have to get better and better at preparing for periods of heat.”

Carlos Antunes, a researcher at the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Science, said the data showed that older people were the most likely to die from heat waves.

Hot nighttime temperatures are also hampering firefighting efforts across Europe and worsening health conditions as nighttime hours offer no cooling, experts said on Tuesday. Continue reading

FLAME AND SMOKE

In Italy, temperatures this week are expected to hit 40C in part of the north and center and the southern heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia, and on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

Five cities were put on high red alert because of the heatwave on Tuesday. The alert, which warns of serious weather-related health risks, will cover nine cities on Wednesday and rise to 14 on Thursday, including many of Italy’s largest metropolitan areas such as Rome, Milan and Florence.

Although mercury in Spain and Portugal returned to more normal summer levels, firefighters in both countries were still battling multiple blazes.

More than 30 wildfires continued to ravage parts of Spain, with authorities paying particular attention to four blazes in Castile and Leon and Galicia.

More than 6,000 people in 32 villages were evacuated in Losacio, in the northwestern province of Zamora, where two people died and three were seriously injured.

So far this year, 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) have been burned in Spain, about double the average for the past decade, official data ahead of the heatwave showed.

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Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London, Catarina Demony in Lisbon, Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Renee Maltezou in Athens, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, Crispian Balmer in Rome, Bart Biesemans in Belgium; Edited by Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones, Bernadette Baum, Alexandra Hudson and Richard Chang

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