Europe Broils Amid a Heat Wave and Wildfires
LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France — A heat wave broiling Europe spilled northward Monday to Britain and fueled ferocious wildfires in Spain and France, which evacuated thousands of people and scrambled water-bombing planes and firefighters to battle flames in tinder-dry forests.
Two people were killed in the blazes in Spain that its prime minister linked to global warming, saying, “Climate change kills.”
These deaths are in addition to many heat-related death reported on the Iberian peninsula. High temperatures across Europe have triggered wildfires in Portugal and the Balkans in recent days. Extended droughts are also common in some areas such as northern Italy. Climate change makes such life-threatening extremes less of a rarity — and heat waves have come even to places like Britain, which braced for possible record-breaking temperatures.
It was anticipated that the heat in the U.K. would be so intense this week, train operators said it could damage the rails. Some schools also created wading pools for children to cool down.
In France, heat records were broken and swirling hot winds complicated firefighting in the country’s southwest.
“The fire is literally exploding,” said Marc Vermeulen, the regional fire service chief who described tree trunks shattering as flames consumed them, sending burning embers into the air and further spreading the blazes.
“We’re facing extreme and exceptional circumstances,” he said.
More towns were evacuated by authorities, and another 14,900 persons were moved from places that might be directly in the way of fires or choking smoke. Since July 12th, wildfires in Gironde have forced more than 31,000 residents from their summer homes and vacation destinations.
According to the Interior Ministry, three more planes were added in order to support six others who are fighting the flames.
Over 200 additional firefighters joined the 1,500 firefighters fighting the Gironde fires. The flames neared the Gironde’s vineyards, and billowed smoke over the Arcachon maritime bay known for its oysters.
Spain also suffered a second death from its own fires in just two days. A 69 year-old farmer of sheep was killed in a fire in Zamora’s northwestern Zamora region. He was also trapped in flames. There have been more than 30 forest fires across Spain, resulting in the evacuation of thousands and the destruction of 220 kilometers (85 mile) of forest.
When their train stopped in the country, passengers on a train that was passing through Zamora were able to get a terrifying, up-close look at a fire. Video of the unscheduled — and unnerving — stop showed about a dozen passengers in a railcar becoming alarmed as they looked out of the windows at the flames encroaching on both sides of the track.
Climate scientists say heat waves are more intense, more frequent and longer because of climate change — and coupled with droughts have made wildfires harder to fight. According to them, climate change will make the weather more extreme. Wildfires are likely to become more severe and more damaging.
“Climate change kills,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the site of three major blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, described her country as “literally under fire” as she attended talks on climate change in Berlin.
She warned of “terrifying prospects still for the days to come” — after more than 10 days of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), cooling only moderately at night.
There have been at least 748 deaths due to heat in Spain’s heat wave and Portugal’s heatwave, which saw temperatures of 47 C (117 F), earlier in the month.
Although the heat wave in Spain is expected to end on Tuesday, the relief will only last a few hours as the temperatures continue rising, particularly in western Extremadura.
Officials in Britain have now issued their first ever extreme heat warning. The weather service predicts that record-breaking 38.7 C (101 F) could soon be broken.
“Forty-one isn’t off the cards,” said Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby. “We’ve even got some 43s in the model, but we’re hoping it won’t be as high as that.”
France’s often-temperate Brittany region sweltered with a record 39.3 C (102.7 F) degrees in the port of Brest, surpassing a high of 35.1 C that had stood since September 2003, French weather service Meteo-France said.
Regional records in France were broken in over a dozen towns, as the weather service said Monday was “the hottest day of this heat wave.”
Although the Balkans expected severe heat this week, they have already experienced sporadic wildfires.
Authorities in Slovenia announced Monday that firefighters had brought down one fire. After last week’s wildfires at the Adriatic Sea, Croatia dispatched a water-dropping aircraft to assist. A fire at Sibenik caused some Sibenik residents to have to leave their homes, but it was soon extinguished.
Portugal saw Monday’s cooler temperatures help firefighters make significant progress. In northern Portugal, more than 600 firefighters responded to four large fires.
—Leicester reported from Le Pecq. Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka, Associated Press reporters in London, Geir Redondo in Madrid and Raquel Moulson, Geir and Geir in Berlin, were reporting from Le Pecq. Jovana Gec, who was reporting from Belgrade (Serbia), contributed.
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