A heat wave ravaging Europe swept into Britain on Monday, where officials warned of record temperatures, and sparked devastating wildfires in France, prompting water-bombing planes and hundreds of firefighters to battle the blaze spreading through dry forests.
In Spain, the country’s prime minister says “climate change is killing” and two people have died in a fire linked to global warming.
Intense heat has fueled the blazes in both France and Spain – part of a wall of extreme heat moving across Europe, even touching places like Britain, where authorities have issued their first ever extreme heat warning. The National Weather Service predicted that the 2019 record high of 38.7 degrees Celsius (101.7 degrees Fahrenheit) could be broken.
Met Office chief executive Penelope Endersby said: “Forty one is not off the cards. “We have some 43s in the model, but hopefully that won’t be the case.”
Forecasters in France have warned of record temperatures as severe storms have complicated firefighting efforts in the country’s southwest.
Authorities there began evacuating more than 3,500 people who risked finding themselves in the path of the blaze, which has burned 140 square kilometers (54 square miles) of pine forests and other vegetation. This brings the number of people displaced from their homes in the Gironde region to 20,000 since July 12.
Regional fire chief Marc Vermeulen described the burning forests as a “powder cake” as tree trunks were consumed by the fire, sending embers into the air and spreading the fire further.
“The fire is really raging,” he said. “We are facing dire and extraordinary circumstances.”
Three more planes were dispatched to join six others fighting the blaze, carrying seawater into their tanks and making repeated runs through thick clouds of smoke, the Interior Ministry said Sunday night.
More than 200 reinforcements are on their way to join the 1,500-strong force of firefighters fighting around the clock to bring the blaze under control in the Gironde. Flames are surrounded by expensive vineyards and the sea basin of Arcachon, famous for its Ister and beaches.
Spain, meanwhile, has reported its second death toll in two days as it battles its own fires. The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found in the same hill area where a 62-year-old firefighter died in a fire in the northwest Zamora district on Monday. More than 30 wildfires across Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and submerged 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of forest and wasteland.
Heat waves and droughts combined with climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight. Scientists say climate change will make weather more severe and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said during a visit to the Extremadura region on Monday that “climate change will kill” as firefighters tackled three major blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Spain’s climate change minister, Teresa Ribera, said her country was “on fire” as she attended climate change talks in Berlin.
After more than 10 days of temperatures above 40C (104F), she warned of “still dire prospects for the coming days” with moderate cooling at night.
Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records daily heat-related deaths, reported 237 heat-related deaths between July 10 and 14, compared with 25 heat-related deaths last week.
The heat wave in Spain is expected to ease on Tuesday, but the relief will be short-lived as temperatures rise again on Wednesday.
In Portugal, very cold weather on Monday helped firefighters make progress on the blaze. More than 600 firefighters attended four major fires in northern Portugal.
This story was reprinted from a wire agency feed without revisions to the text. Only the title has been changed.