LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A wave of wildfires is scorching parts of Europe, with firefighters battling blazes in Portugal, Spain, Croatia and southern France on Wednesday amid a wave unusual heat that authorities associate with climate change.
In Portugal, Civil Protection Commander André Fernandes said several fires had prompted the evacuation of more than 600 people. About 120 people needed medical attention, including two people – a civilian and a firefighter – with serious injuries, Fernandes said.
Airplanes dumping water helped 1,300 firefighters battle the country’s worst blazes in the central area, while another 1,000 worked to bring other blazes under control.
The European heatwave is also igniting flames in Spain and France — and in Turkey across the Mediterranean.
More than 800 firefighters fought two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France, according to the regional emergency service. The fires started on Tuesday near the towns of Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch, and firefighters were unable to contain them on Wednesday morning.
About 6,500 people were evacuated from campsites and villages in the forested area. The number of injured is unclear. The two fires destroyed more than 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres) of land. Footage from firefighters showed flames rolling through thickets of trees and grassland, fanned by strong winds, and smoke blackening the horizon.
The regional administration has banned all activity in forest areas at risk. Several regions in the south of France are on fire alert due to hot, dry weather and strong winds. Forest fires swept through the Gard region in southeastern France last week.
Portugal has long experienced deadly forest fires. In 2017, wildfires killed more than 100 people. No one has died from a wildfire since then, as Portugal improved its forest management and firefighting strategies.
Last year, Portugal recorded its lowest number of wildfires since 2011. But a mass of hot, dry air blown by African winds is pushing temperatures across the Iberian Peninsula beyond their usual highs .
The Atlantic country, which has been on wildfire alert since last week, is sweltering under a spike in temperatures that is expected to send thermometers in the central Alentejo region to 46 C (115 F) on Wednesday and Thursday. Authorities said 96% of the country was classified at the end of June as being in “extreme” or “severe” drought.
More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) had been consumed in the Leiria district alone, just north of Lisbon, Mayor Goncalo Lopes told Portuguese state broadcaster RTP.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, who canceled a trip abroad to deal with the emergency, said better maintenance of forests and abandoned farmland was essential to protect them.
“In 2017, the country realized that having enough firefighters was essential, but it’s not enough,” Costa said. “We need to get to the root of the problem… Property abandonment and non-management is one of the greatest risk factors for wildfires.”
Neighboring Spain hit highs of 43 C (109.4 F) in several southern cities on Tuesday. More than 400 people were evacuated on Tuesday due to a forest fire that consumed 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) in western Spain.
Fueled by strong winds, fires have also raged along Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast, with the worst situation reported near the town of Sibenik, where planes dropping water and dozens of firefighters struggled to contain the flames which briefly engulfed cars and a church steeple. . Regional television N1 reported that some residents evacuated the area in dinghies. Fires were also reported near the coastal city of Zadar.
Firefighter Boris Dukić told public television HRT that “it’s hell, we don’t know where to start”.
European Union officials issued a warning last week that climate change is behind the extremely dry and hot summer so far on the continent, urging local authorities to prepare for wildfires.
Cayetano Torres, spokesman for Spain’s national meteorologist, said the “unusual” heat wave and lack of rainfall in recent months created ideal circumstances for the fires.
“These are perfect conditions for fires to spread, and if you add wind to that, you have guaranteed spread,” he said.
In southwestern Turkey, a fire broke out near the village of Mesudiye, near the Aegean resort of Datca, and was moving toward homes in the area, according to the province’s governor’s office. . He said at least nine water-dropping helicopters and five planes were deployed to fight the blaze.
Last summer, fires fueled by high winds and scorching temperatures tore through forests in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions. The forest fires, which killed at least eight people and countless animals, have been described as the worst in Turkish history.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has come under heavy criticism for its inadequate response and preparedness to fight large-scale wildfires, including a lack of modern firefighting aircraft.
Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain. Angela Charlton in Paris, Renata Brito in Barcelona, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.
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