PARIS (AP) – Strong winds and hot, dry weather frustrated the efforts of French firefighters Saturday to contain a massive wildfire burning through pine forests in the Bordeaux region, one of several wildfires that have ravaged 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.
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 on Saturday with ordinary citizens trying to save their homes after weeks of being in the country. The fire was fueled by unusually high temperatures and drought conditions.
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. Much 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 after a fire broke out near the village of Mijas in Malaga province 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.
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, with heat waves reaching over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). 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.
A national July record high of 47 C (117 F) was reached in the northern city of Pinhão on Wednesday, Portuguese officials said.
Britain’s Met Office weather agency has issued its first “red warning” for extreme heat on Monday and Tuesday, where temperatures could reach 40C (104F) 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.
“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 raging in the western province of Izmir 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.
Wilson reports from Barcelona, Spain. Danica Kirka in London and Andrew Wilkes in Istanbul contributed.
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