France battles massive wildfires, Britain records highest temperature on record

  • Wildfires burn forests in Gironde, south-west France
  • UK temperatures top 40C for first time
  • Germany and Belgium prepare for possible record temperatures
  • More than 30 wildfires are ravaging parts of Spain

LONDON/PARIS, July 19 (Reuters) – Firefighters in southwestern France battled to contain massive wildfires on Tuesday and Britain recorded its highest ever temperature as a surge heat from the south settled over western Europe.

Southern and western Germany and Belgium also braced for potentially record high temperatures as the heat wave, which scientists attribute to climate change, spread north and east.

A temperature of over 40C (104F) was tentatively recorded for the first time in Britain on Tuesday, the Met Office said.

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Authorities have put Britain, which often struggles to maintain key transport services when hit by unexpected weather conditions such as heavy snowfall or high winds, in a state of “national emergency “due to the unprecedented temperatures.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has said it will take many years to completely upgrade Britain’s infrastructure to cope with higher temperatures, after at least two airport runways showed signs of damage and that some railway tracks have become deformed.

“We have seen a considerable amount of travel disruption,” he told the BBC. “The infrastructure, much of which was built from Victorian times, was simply not designed to withstand this type of temperature.”

In southwestern France, the Gironde wine region has seen its biggest wildfires in more than 30 years and authorities say a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson.

The fires have spread over 19,300 hectares (about 75 square miles) in the Bordeaux countryside since July 12, forcing a total of 34,000 people to evacuate their homes.

About 2,000 firefighters, supported by eight water bomber planes, were battling the blazes.

“Despite ground and air attacks, the situation has still not stabilized,” the state prefecture said in a statement, adding that no deaths or injuries had been reported.

A study published by climatologists in June in the journal “Environmental Research: Climate” concluded that it was highly likely that climate change would worsen heat waves. Read more

With human-caused climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 UN report.

“We are seeing more frequent heat waves, and the heat waves are hotter than they would have been without climate change,” Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Institute, told Reuters. Imperial College London.

FLAMES AND SMOKE

Although mercury returned to more normal summer levels in Spain and Portugal, firefighters in both countries were still battling multiple blazes.

More than 30 wildfires have continued to ravage parts of Spain, with authorities paying particular attention to four blazes in Castile and Leon and Galicia.

In Losacio, in the northwest of the province of Zamora, where two people died and three seriously injured, more than 6,000 people in 32 villages were evacuated.

Dramatic television footage showed flames and plumes of smoke rising into the night sky near the town of Zamora, Tabara.

On Monday, a man trying to save his town from wildfires came close to death when the blaze engulfed his backhoe, forcing him to run for his life while tapping the flames on his clothes. Read more

In Galicia, more than 1,500 people were evacuated from the path of four fires, which damaged several buildings.

So far this year, 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) have been burned in Spain, around double the average for the past decade, according to official data released ahead of the heatwave.

In neighboring Portugal, around 50 municipalities, mainly in the central and northern regions, were still facing the “maximum risk” of forest fires, according to the meteorological institute IPMA.

More than 1,000 firefighters were battling five major wildfires, the largest of which started in the northern municipality of Murça and spread to two neighboring municipalities.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from villages and an elderly couple were found dead in a burnt-out car on Monday. Read more

In Greece, firefighters brought 73 fires under control in 24 hours, firefighters said on Monday. The civil protection authority warned on Tuesday of a very high fire risk across the country.

A forest fire that started in Slovenia’s Karst region was brought under control by firefighters on Tuesday, authorities said, two days after the blaze started. There were no casualties.

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Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London, Catarina Demony in Lisbon, Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Renee Maltezou in Athens, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, Editing by Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones and Bernadette Baum

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