Thousands forced to flee as wildfires tear across Europe

Strong winds and hot, dry weather frustrated French firefighters’ efforts to contain a large wildfire that ripped through pine forests in the Bordeaux region on Saturday, one of many. Wild fire Burning Europe this week.

In one of the worst fires in Portugal, the pilot of a firefighting plane died Friday when his plane crashed while operating in the northeast. This is the first fire death in Portugal this year, but the fire this week has injured more than 160 people and forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

An unusually dry and hot fire season, which officials attributed to climate change, has ravaged parts of Europe.

A fire truck from the Gironde region sprays liquid on a forest fire in France. (AP)

As the worst of the French fires approach their towns, some of the 11,000 people who have been evacuated across the region have expressed fear and uncertainty about what they will find when they return home. Images shared by firefighters show flames shooting through several pine trees and billowing black smoke on the horizon.

Firefighters on Saturday focused their efforts on putting fire trucks around the affected villages and saving as many homes as possible, Charles Lafourcade, who oversees France’s firefighting operations, told reporters.

About 3,000 firefighters supported by water jets are battling the blaze in southern France, the president said, and Greece has sent firefighting equipment to help.

French firefighters managed to contain one of the fires that broke out overnight near the Atlantic beach resort of Arcachon, popular with tourists, the region’s emergency services said on Saturday. But he said “strong meteorological conditions” had hampered efforts to contain the biggest fire in the region’s Landras town, south of the Bordeaux vineyard valley. The district attorney is suspected of arson.

The two fires have burned at least 9,650 hectares (23,800 acres) in recent days.

In Portugal, more than 1,000 firefighters worked Saturday with ordinary citizens desperate to save their homes after a long week around the country. The fire was fueled by unusually high temperatures and drought conditions.

In Portugal, thousands of firefighters are battling fires across the country. (AP)
Several hundred firefighters battled two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France on Friday. (AP)

Portuguese state television RTP reported Friday that the area burned this year — more than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) — has already exceeded the total for 2021. Most of it burned last week.

Across the border, Spain was struggling to contain several fires, including two that had burned about 7,400 hectares (18,200 acres).

3,000 people have been evacuated from their villages after a fire broke out near the village of Mijas in the province of Malaga in southern Andalusia. About 200 firefighters, supported by 18 aircraft, tried to control the blaze. Authorities were investigating the cause.

For a sixth day, firefighters were still trying to control a blaze sparked by lightning in the west-central Las Hurdes area. About 400 people from eight villages were evacuated on Friday as the fire approached their homes and could spread to the nearby Monfrage National Park.

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Croatia and Hungary also battled wildfires this week, as did California and Morocco.

Many European countries are experiencing exceptional heat this month due to climate change.

Heat-related deaths have soared in Spain this week as temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius in several areas. According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records daily heat-related deaths, 237 people died in the July 10-14 heat wave. That compares to 25 heat-related deaths last week.

Portuguese authorities said on Wednesday that the northern city of Pinhao had a July national record high of 47C.

Britain’s Met Office weather agency has issued its first “red warning” for extreme heat on Monday and Tuesday, where temperatures could reach 40C for the first time in southern England.

The British government was holding an emergency response meeting on Saturday to draw up plans for extreme temperatures. People in the UK have been warned not to travel unless absolutely necessary and schools and nursing homes have been told to take extra precautions.

Wildfires are raging across Europe. (AP)

“All the heat waves studied so far in Europe are warming,” said Robert Voutard of the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute at Sorbonne University. “Unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero, heat waves will become stronger, more intense. It’s frequent and long-lasting.”

In Turkey – the scene of devastating wildfires last summer – local media reported fires in western Izmir province and Hatay, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border. Helicopters, planes and hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze.

Last year, wildfires fueled by strong winds and scorching temperatures swept across Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions, killing at least eight people and drawing widespread criticism of the government’s lack of preparation and response.

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