PARIS — The pilot of a Portuguese firefighting plane died on Friday when his plane crashed during a firefighting operation in the northeast of the country. The death came as fires continued to rage in Portugal, neighboring Spain and France.
In a post on his official Twitter account, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said: “It is with great dismay that I learned of the death of the pilot who was flying a plane that went down this afternoon.” He sent his condolences to the family and friends of the pilot and also expressed his solidarity and gratitude to all those who participated in the fight against the fires.
The pilot died during an operation near the town of Torre de Moncorvo.
Portugal has been particularly affected by forest fires this week. More than 3,000 firefighters fought alongside desperate ordinary Portuguese citizens to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions. The country’s Civil Protection Agency said 10 fires were still raging on Friday, with those in the north the most concerning.
The pilot was the first fatal fire victim in Portugal so far this year. More than 160 people have been injured and hundreds evacuated from towns this week.
Portuguese public television RTP reported on Friday that the area burned this year has already exceeded the total for 2021. More than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land has been burned, it said, most during last week.
Meanwhile, Portuguese authorities said a national July high of 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) was recorded in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, the hottest day of the year so far.
In France, 1,000 firefighters and 10 water dumping planes braved high temperatures and strong winds to try to contain two forest fires in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France, which forced the evacuation of 11,300 people and ravaged pine forests near the Atlantic coast.
One of the French fires is in the woods just south of the Atlantic resort of Arcachon, a major attraction for visitors during the summer season. The other is in a park not far from valleys dotted with vineyards that have struggled with hotter and drier than usual weather this year that authorities have linked to climate change.
More than 7,000 hectares of land have been consumed by the fires, according to the regional emergency service. As the fires dragged into a fourth day on Friday, one was partially contained, he said, but warned warmer temperatures and winds over the weekend end could further complicate firefighting efforts.
“We are living through an exceptionally harsh (summer) season,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday during a visit to the government’s crisis management center at the Interior Ministry in Paris. The amount of French forests burned in the fires this year is already triple that destroyed in 2020, Macron said.
Some of the firefighting planes and equipment that were due to be displayed during the July 14 parade in Paris on Thursday have been diverted for use on the fires in the Bordeaux region. Forest fires also broke out in southeastern France and north of Paris.
Spain, Croatia and Hungary also battled wildfires this week. For a fifth day, Spanish firefighters battled Friday to try to control a blaze sparked by a lightning strike in the west-central region of Las Hurdes that consumed around 5,500 hectares (13,600 acres).
Some 400 people from eight villages were evacuated on Thursday evening as flames approached their homes and threatened to spread into nearby Monfrague National Park.
The government said on Friday that 17 fires across Spain were keeping firefighters busy. In northeastern Catalonia, authorities have restricted access to several mountain areas to avoid possible fires.
The European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces another extreme climate change that scientists say is triggered by climate change.
In the Spanish city of Seville, one of Europe’s hottest spots this week, some unions have called for workers to be sent home. Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been above the 40C (104F) mark for several days and are expected to continue to do so until next week.
Seville has become the first city in the world to take part in a pilot project that names and categorizes heat waves in an effort to raise awareness of the health risks caused by extreme heat and the precautions citizens should take.
“Extreme climate-related heat kills more people than any other climate-related hazard. The heat is invisible, it’s quiet and it kills slowly, and people aren’t aware of it,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Atlantic Council’s Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center.
Britain’s Met Office weather agency warned on Friday that record high temperatures expected next week pose a risk of “serious illness or life threatening”.
The office issued its first-ever extreme heat ‘red warning’ for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England are expected to reach 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures are likely to exceed the highest temperatures on record in the UK – 38.7°C (101.7°F), which were set in 2019.
The Met Office weather alert, which covers much of England from London to Manchester, warns of danger to life, disruption to air and rail travel and a potential ‘localized loss of power and electricity. ‘other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services’. .”
Ciarán Giles in Madrid and Danica Kirk in London contributed.
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