Authorities across Southern Europe battled to control huge wildfires in countries including Spain, Greece and France on Sunday, with hundreds of deaths blamed on soaring temperatures that scientists say are consistent with climate change.
In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as heat above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and often mountainous terrain made the job harder for fire fighters.
Shocked residents watching thick plumes of smoke risingabove the central western Jerte valley said the heat was makingtheir previously green and cool home more like Spain’s semi-aridsouth.
“Climate change affects everyone,” says resident Miguel Angel Tamayo.
A study published in June in the journal ‘Environmental Research: Climate’ concluded it was highly probable that climate change was making heat waves worse.
1000 deaths in Spain
More than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the nearly week-long heat wave in Portugal and Spain so far. Temperatures in Spain have reached as high as 45.7C (114F).
Spain’s weather agency issued temperature warnings for Sunday, with highs of 42 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north. It said the heat wave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
Fires were raging in several other regions including Castille and Leon in central Spain and Galicia in the north on Sunday afternoon. Fire fighters stabilised a blaze in Mijas, in Malaga Province, saying evacuated people could return home.
British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy had fled for safety with other evacuees in a local sport centre from their home on Saturday as the fire approached.
“It was very fast …. I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had it under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction,” William (68) told Reuters.
14 000 evacuated in France
In France, wildfires have now spread over 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the South Western region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people have been evacuated, regional authorities said on Sunday afternoon.
More than 1,200 fire fighters were trying to control the blazes, the authorities said in a statement.
France issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, with residents urged “to be extremely vigilant”.
Temperatures to soar in Italy
In Italy, where smaller fires have blazed in recent days, forecasters expect temperatures above 40C in several regions in coming days.
Similar temperatures were recorded in Portugal on Sunday andare forecast in Britain on Monday and Tuesday, in what would top its previous official record of 38.7C (102F) set in Cambridge in2019.
Red flag alert in Britain
Britain’s national weather forecaster issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England. Rail passengers were advised to only travel if absolutely necessary and to expect widespread delays and cancellations.
Around 1,000 fire fighters tried to control 13 forest and rural fires in the centre and north of Portugal, the largest being near the Northern city of Chaves.
Portugal’s Health Ministry said late on Saturday that in the last seven days 659 people died due to the heat wave, most of them elderly. It said the weekly peak of 440 deaths was on Thursday, when temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in several regions and 47C (117F) at a meteorological station in the District of Vizeu in the centre of the country.
By Saturday, there were 360 heat-related deaths in Spain, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.
Drought in Portugal
Portugal was grappling with extreme drought even before the recent heat wave, according to data from the National Meteorological Institute. Some 96% of the mainland was already suffering severe or extreme drought at the end of June.
Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes urged people to take care not to ignite new fires in such bone-dry conditions.
In Greece the fire brigade said on Saturday 71 blazes had broken out within a 24-hour period.