Europe suffers from deadly heat wave as wildfires displace thousands

Extreme temperatures in Western Europe have fueled wildfires, disrupted transport and displaced thousands of people as the continent reels from the effects of climate change.

Record-breaking heat is forecast to rise further this week, raising concerns about infrastructure problems such as melting roads, widespread power outages and derailed railway tracks.

Several areas in France experienced high temperatures approaching or exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the national weather forecast. In Britain, where few homes have air conditioning, maximum temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, falling below the national record.

June 18, 2022 Firefighters tackle a wildfire in Pumarejo de Terra, near Zamora in northern Spain, on June 18, 2022.

Cesar Manso | AFP | Getty Images

In Europe, at least five countries have declared states of emergency or red alerts as wildfires continue to burn in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain due to hot conditions. More than 31,000 people were displaced last week by wildfires in the Gironde region of southwestern France.

Climate change has made heat waves and droughts more common, intense and widespread. Dry and hot conditions exacerbate wildfires, which have become more destructive in recent years. And nighttime low temperatures that provide critical relief from hot days are disappearing as the Earth warms.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited areas affected by wildfires in western Extremadura. “Climate change is killing people, our ecosystems and what is most precious to us,” Sanchez said.

July 16, 2022 in Benidorm, Spain Tourists fill the Levante coast in Benidorm as heatwaves sweep across Spain.

Zowy legs | Getty Images

Spain’s Carlos III Institute of Health estimates that at least 350 people died in Spain last week due to extreme heat. In Portugal, health officials said nearly 240 people died in the first half of July after temperatures reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit earlier in the month.

Train services are limited in the UK and there are fears that the railways will be trapped in the heat. The UK’s Met Office has issued a red warning for heat for the first time. Britain’s National Weather Service said Wales also recorded a high of 98.8 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday.

An aerial view shows boats on the dry bed of Lake Brenets (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, in Les Brenets on July 18, 2022.

Fabrice Coffreni AFP | Getty Images

The airline has announced that flights at London Luton Airport have been delayed due to a malfunction. Temperatures in north London reached 94 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday and are forecast to rise on Tuesday.

As people across Europe braved the heat, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning to leaders of 40 countries gathered in Berlin to discuss climate change responses as part of the St. Petersburg climate talks.

“Half of humanity is in the disaster zone from floods, droughts, hurricanes and wildfires. No country is immune. But we continue to feed our addiction to fossil fuels,” Guterres said in a video message to leaders on Monday.

— Associated Press contributed reporting.

Beachgoers react as smoke billows from a wildfire in the La Teste-de-Buch forest, Arcachon, France, July 18, 2022.

Pascal Rossignol | Reuters

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