Authorities across southern Europe battled on Sunday to control massive wildfires in countries including Spain, Greece and France, with hundreds of deaths blamed on soaring temperatures that scientists say , are compatible with climate change.
In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as heat above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and often mountainous terrain made the job more difficult for firefighters.
Shocked residents watching thick plumes of smoke rise above the valley in central western Jerte said the heat made their previously green and cool home more like the semi-arid south of Spain.
“Climate change affects everyone,” said resident Miguel Angel Tamayo.
A study published in June in the journal Environmental Research: Climate concluded that it was very likely that climate change would make heat waves worse.
So far, at least 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the heatwave in Portugal and Spain. Temperatures in Spain reached 45.7 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) during the heatwave that lasted nearly a week.
Spain’s weather agency has issued temperature warnings for Sunday, with maximum temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) predicted in Aragon, Navarre and La Rioja in the north. He said the heat wave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
Fires were raging in several other regions, including Castile and Leon in central Spain and Galicia in the north on Sunday afternoon. In Spain’s southern province of Malaga, wildfires raged overnight, affecting local residents near Mijas, a town popular with tourists from northern Europe.
British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy fled for safety with other evacuees at a local sports center on Saturday as the blaze approached.
“It was very quick…I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had it under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction,” William, 68, told Reuters.
“We just grabbed a few essentials and just ran and at this point everyone along the street was moving,” Ellen said.
In France, wildfires have now spread to 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the southwestern region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people have been evacuated, regional authorities announced on Sunday afternoon.
More than 1,200 firefighters were trying to bring the flames under control, authorities said in a statement.
France has issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, urging residents to “be extremely vigilant”.
In Italy, where smaller fires have broken out in recent days, forecasters expect temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions in the coming days.
Similar temperatures are expected in Britain on Monday and Tuesday in what would exceed a previous official record of 38.7 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) set in Cambridge in 2019.
Britain’s National Meteorologist has issued its first red ‘extreme heat’ warning for parts of England. Rail passengers have been advised to travel only when absolutely necessary and to expect widespread delays and cancellations.
Portugal’s health ministry said on Saturday evening that in the past seven days 659 people have died due to the heat wave, most of them elderly people. He said the weekly peak of 440 deaths occurred on Thursday, when temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several areas and 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) at a meteorological station in central Vizeu district. from the country. .
On Saturday, there were 360 heat-related deaths in Spain, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.
Portugal is in the grip of extreme drought – with 96% of the continent in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, before the recent heat wave, according to data from the national meteorological institute.
Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes urged people to be careful not to start new fires in such dry conditions.
In Greece, firefighters said on Saturday that 71 fires had broken out in 24 hours. Local fire officials on the island of Crete said on Sunday that a blaze raging through forest and farmland had been partially brought under control.
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