The heat wave burns Europe; health warnings issued

  • WMO issues urban air quality warning
  • UK declares first red heat warning for Monday and Tuesday
  • Fires in France, Spain and Portugal

LEIRIA, Portugal/LONDON, July 15 (Reuters) – Hundreds more people were evacuated from their homes as wildfires tore through land in France, Spain and Portugal on Friday, while European officials warned issued health warnings for the heat wave in the coming days.

More than 1,000 firefighters, backed by water bombers, have battled since Tuesday to control two blazes in southwestern France that have been fanned by scorching heat, powder keg conditions and high winds.

While temperatures have dropped slightly in Portugal, they were still expected to exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in some places, with five districts on red alert and more than 1,000 firefighters battling 17 wildfires, authorities said.

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In Spain, a new forest fire broke out in the south of the country after fires in the west last week.

More than 400 people have been evacuated from the hills of Mijas, a popular town for northern European tourists in the province of Malaga. Bathers in Torremolinos, about twenty kilometers away, could see plumes of smoke rising above the hotels that line the coast.

Meanwhile, the worst drought in more than 70 years has reduced Italy’s longest river, the Po, to just over a trickle in places, with temperatures set to rise next week.

Officials are concerned about the effects on people’s health and on health systems already challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic as searing heat sweeps across the continent, with warnings issued for the worst to come in Britain. Britain in particular.

The World Meteorological Organization said the heat wave will worsen air quality, especially in cities and towns.

“The stable, stagnant atmosphere acts as a cover to trap air pollutants, including particulate matter,” WMO chief scientist Lorenzo Labrador told a press briefing in Geneva.

“These lead to degraded air quality and adverse health effects, especially for vulnerable people.”

Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido said on Thursday the health system was facing a “particularly worrying” week due to the heatwave and said some hospitals were overwhelmed.

From July 7 to 13, Portugal recorded 238 additional deaths from the heatwave, the country’s DGS health authority said. Spain recorded 84 additional deaths attributable to extreme temperatures in the first three days of the heat wave, according to the National Epidemiology Center database.

UK WARNING

The British meteorologist issued its first red ‘extreme heat’ warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday. Read more

“Exceptional, possibly record high, temperatures are likely early next week,” Met Office chief meteorologist Paul Gundersen said.

“Nights are also likely to be unusually warm, particularly in urban areas,” he said. “This will likely lead to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure.”

The highest temperature recorded in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F) recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.

Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at Britain’s University of Reading, said the heatwave showed climate change was here and there was an urgent need to adapt.

“We see these problems now and they are going to get worse. We have to do something now,” she told Reuters.

“It’s harder to deal with those kinds of temperatures in the UK because we’re just not used to them.”

In Portugal, the highest temperature on Thursday was recorded in the northern town of Pinhao at 47 C (116.6 F), just below the record.

Raymond Loadwick, 73, a British pensioner now living in the Portuguese district of Leiria, had to leave his home with his dog Jackson when flames began burning a hillside filled with highly flammable eucalyptus and pine trees on Tuesday.

When he returned a day later, his white house was intact but the vegetation around it had turned to ash and his fruit trees had been set on fire. Loadwick fears fires will happen more often in the future: “You have to be on your guard,” he told Reuters.

In France’s Gironde region, 11,300 people have been evacuated since forest fires broke out around the Dune du Pilat and Landiras. Some 7,350 hectares (18,000 acres) of land was burned. Authorities said the fires have not yet stabilized.

Elsewhere in Spain, wildfires that scorched parts of Extremadura, which borders Portugal, and the central region of Castile and Leon forced the evacuation of four other small villages late Thursday and Friday.

The flames now threaten a 16th century monastery and a national park. Several hundred people have been evacuated since the start of the fires and 7,500 hectares of forest have been destroyed in the two regions.

In Catalonia, in the northeast, authorities have suspended camping and sports activities in 275 towns and villages to prevent fire risks and restrict agricultural work involving machinery.

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Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris, Emma Pinedo, Elena Rodriguez and Christina Thykjaer in Madrid, Hannah McKay in Torremolinos, William James in London and Emma Farge in Geneva; Written by Alison Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson

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