Southwestern Europe suffered a sixth day of summer heatwave 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 been fighting forest fires that have ravaged thousands of hectares of land and killed several people since the start of the week.
It is the second heat wave to engulf parts of southwestern Europe in weeks, with scientists blaming climate change and predicting more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
The nearly week-long heat wave caused 360 heat-related deaths in Spain, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.
Firefighters in the coastal town of Arcachon in south-west Gironde have been battling to control two wildfires that have devoured more than 10,000 hectares since Tuesday.
“It’s Herculean work,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Chavatte of the fire and rescue service, which has 1,200 firefighters and five planes in action.
New evacuation orders were given on Saturday for a few hundred residents, firefighter spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP.
Since Tuesday, more than 14,000 people in total – residents and tourists alike – have been forced to decamp with seven emergency shelters set up to accommodate the evacuees.
Météo France predicts temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius in parts of southern France on Sunday, as well as up to 35 in the north-west, with new heat records expected on Monday.
France placed 22 other departments, mainly along its Atlantic coast, on high orange alert on Saturday evening, bringing the current total to 38.
Authorities in the French Alps have urged mountaineers bound for Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rockfalls caused by “exceptional weather conditions” and “drought”.
The call comes after a section of Italy’s largest alpine glacier gave way earlier this month, killing 11 people, in a disaster blamed on climate change.
In Portugal, the meteorological institute predicts temperatures of up to 42°C without respite before next week.
Several hundred firefighters worked to contain two forest fires in the Bordeaux region of south-west France, which forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and ravaged more than 7,000 hectares of land. Source: AAP / PA
Civil defense, however, took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a July record high of 47C on Thursday to try to put out a major fire remaining in northern Portugal.
“The risk of fires remains very high,” Civil Defense Chief Andre Fernandes warned, although media reported that the still active fires on the mainland had fallen to 11 from 20 earlier.
“It’s a weekend of extreme vigilance,” he added after a week that saw two dead and more than 60 injured, and up to 15,000 hectares of forest and brush incinerated.
The Lisbon government was due to decide on Sunday whether to extend the state of contingency for another week.
In Spain, the national meteorological agency has maintained different alert levels across the country, warning of up to 44°C in some areas.
Dozens of forest fires raged across different parts of the country on Saturday, from the sweltering south to Galicia in the far northwest, which devastated some 3,500 hectares, the regional government said.
“So sad to see part of our natural heritage in flames,” tweeted Spain’s Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calvino.
A fire in the south prompted authorities to cordon off a stretch of a key highway linking Madrid with the Portuguese capital Lisbon for more than 12 hours, before the road was reopened.
The fires have scorched thousands of hectares in Spain’s Extremadura region, while one near the southern city of Malaga has forced the precautionary evacuation of more than 3,000 people, emergency services said.
A firefighter works to contain a forest fire near Landiras, in southwestern France, on July 16, 2022. Strong winds and hot, dry weather are hampering efforts by French firefighters to contain a huge forest fire in the Bordeaux region. Source: AAP / SDIS 33
In Greece, civil defense rushed to douse raging flames on the Mediterranean island of Crete, while Morocco battled a deadly wildfire in its northern mountains.
In the UK, government ministers were due to hold crisis talks after the state weather agency issued a first-ever ‘red’ warning for extreme heat, warning there is a ‘risk to life “.
The Met Office said temperatures in southern England could top 40C on Monday or Tuesday for the first time, leading some schools to say they will remain closed for next week.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has advised Londoners to only use public transport when “absolutely necessary”. National train operators have also warned passengers to avoid travel.