LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France – A heat wave ravaging Europe spilled into Britain on Monday and sparked devastating wildfires in Spain and France, displacing thousands and prompting water-bombing planes and firefighters to battle dry forests.
In Spain, two people died in a fire linked to global warming, where the prime minister said “climate change will kill”.
The death toll is higher than the hundreds of heat-related deaths reported in the Iberian Peninsula, as extreme heat has gripped the continent in recent days and fueled wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans. Some areas, including northern Italy, are also experiencing prolonged drought. Climate change is making such life-threatening extremes less rare – and heatwaves have even occurred in places like Britain, which have resulted in record temperatures.
As the hot weather in the UK is expected to be severe this week, train operators have warned it could disrupt train services and some schools have set up pools to help children cool down.
Temperature records were broken in France and strong storms complicated firefighting in the southwest of the country.
“The fire is really raging,” said regional fire chief Mark Vermeulen as tree trunks burst into flames, sending burning embers into the air and spreading the fire further.
“We are facing dire and extraordinary circumstances,” he said.
Authorities are evacuating more cities and evacuating 14,900 people from areas that may be in the path of the fire and suppressing smoke. In total, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and winter vacations in the Gironde region since the wildfires began on July 12.
Three more planes were sent to join six others in fighting the blaze, pumping seawater 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 1,500 firefighters trying to control the blaze in the Gironde, where the blaze has sent thick smoke over expensive vineyards and the Arcachon basin, famous for its Ister and beaches.
Spain, on the other hand, announced the second death by self-immolation in two days. 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.
Passengers on board a train through Zamora were horrified to see the flames up close as their train stopped in the countryside. Unscheduled and unhindered – video shows about a dozen passengers in a train car looking out the window as they are shocked by the flames on both sides of the track.
Climate scientists say heat waves are more intense, more frequent and longer because of climate change – and combined with drought, it has made it harder to fight wildfires. They say climate change will make weather more severe and make wildfires more frequent and destructive.
“Climate change will kill,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said during a visit to the Extremadura region, where three major fires have been ravaged. “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 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), she warned of “still dire prospects for the coming days” with moderate cooling at night.
At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and neighboring Portugal during a heat wave earlier this month, where temperatures reached 47C (117F).
The heat wave in Spain is forecast to ease on Tuesday, but the relief will be short-lived as temperatures rise again on Wednesday.
Officials in Britain have issued a high temperature warning for the first time, and the weather service forecast that the high of 38.7 C (101.7 F) set for 2019 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.”
France’s often hot Brittany region recorded 39.3C (102.7F) degrees at the port of Brest, up from 35.1C since September 2003, French weather service Meteo France said.
Regional records in France were broken in more than a dozen cities as the weather service said Monday was the “hottest day of this heat wave”.
The Balkan region expected the worst of the heat this weekend, but there have already been sporadic wildfires.
Early Monday, Slovenian officials said firefighters had brought one fire under control. Croatia sent a watercraft to help last week after battling its own wildfires in the Adriatic Sea. A fire in Šibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes but was later extinguished.
In Portugal, very cold weather on Monday helped fire crews make progress. More than 600 firefighters attended four major fires in northern Portugal.
–Leicester reports from Le Pecq. Associated Press reporters Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hutton in Lisbon, Portugal and Jovana Gek in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed.
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