Spain, Germany battle wildfires amid heat wave

BARCELONA: Firefighters in Spain and Germany struggled to contain wildfires on Sunday amid an unusual heat wave in western Europe for this time of year.

The worst damage in Spain has been in the northwest province of Zamora, where over 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) have been consumed, regional authorities said, while German officials said residents of three villages near the capital Berlin were ordered to leave their homes because of an approaching wildfire on Sunday.

Spanish authorities said that after three days of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity, some respite came with dropping temperatures on Sunday morning. That allowed for about 650 firefighters, supported by water-dumping aircraft, to establish a perimeter around the fire that started in Zamora’s Sierra de la Culebra. Authorities warned there was still a danger that an unfavorable shift in weather could revive the blaze that caused the evacuation of 18 villages.

Spain has been on alert for an outbreak of intense wildfires as the southern European country swelters under record temperatures at many points in the country for June. Experts link the abnormally hot period for Europe to climate change. Thermometers have risen above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many Spanish cities throughout the week — temperatures usually expected in August.

A lack of rainfall this year and gusting winds have produced the conditions for the fires.

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Authorities said gusting winds of up 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour) that changed course erratically, combined with temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius, made it very tough for crews.

“The fire was able to cross a reservoir some 500 meters wide and reach the other side, to give you an idea of the difficulties we faced,” Juan Suárez-Quiñones, an official for Castilla y León region, told Spanish state broadcaster Televisión Española, or TVE.

The fire in Zamora was started by a strike from an electrical storm last Wednesday. The blaze caused the high-speed train service from Madrid to Spain’s northwest to be cut last Saturday. It was reestablished on Sunday morning.

Military firefighting units have been deployed in Zamora, Navarra and Lleida.

There have been no reports of lives lost, but the flames reached the outskirts of some villages both in Zamora and Navarra. Videos shot by passengers in cars showed flames licking the sides of roads. In other villages, residents looked on in despair as black plumes rose from nearby hills.

In central-north Navarra, authorities have evacuated some 15 small villages as a precaution, as the high temperatures in the area are not expected to drop until Wednesday.

Wildfires were also active in three parts of northeast Catalonia: in Lleida, in Tarragona and in a nature park in Garaf, just south of Barcelona.

Firefighters said 2,700 ha (6,600 ac) were scorched in Lleida. They added that they have responded to over 200 different wildfires just in Catalonia over the past week.

Germany has also seen numerous wildfires in recent days after a period of intense heat and little rain. The country’s national weather agency said temperatures reached 39.2 degrees Celsius (102.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the eastern cities of Dresden and Cottbus on Sunday.

Strong winds have been fanning a blaze near the town of Treuenbrietzen, about 50 km (31 mi) southwest of Berlin, prompting officials to order three villages evacuated on Sunday.

About 600 people in Frohnsdorf, Tiefenbrunnen and Klausdorf were told to immediately seek shelter at a community center.

“This is not a drill,” town officials tweeted.

More than 1,400 firefighters, soldiers and civil defense experts were deployed to tackle the blaze, which also affected a former military training area known to be contaminated with ammunition.

Officials expressed hope on Sunday night that thunderstorms moving in from the west would help put out the fires.

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