Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Forest fires burn France and Spain as Europe grapples with extreme heat wave

PARIS ( Associated Press) — Firefighters battled Sunday to contain out-of-control wildfires in France and Spain as Europe withers under an unusually extreme heat wave that authorities in Madrid link to a rise in excess deaths.

Two huge fires that have been consuming pine forests for six days south of the city of Bordeaux in southwestern France have forced the evacuation of some 14,000 people, including many who were going to spend their holidays in camps.

In Spain, firefighters supported by the emergency brigades of the armed forces are trying to put out more than 30 fires that are consuming forests scattered throughout the country. Spain’s Department of National Defense said “most” of its firefighting planes have been deployed. Many areas are rugged and mountainous terrain making access difficult for ground crews.

Dry conditions on the Iberian Peninsula have made it particularly susceptible to wildfires, some caused by lightning, some by accident and even some set on purpose, after a mass of hot air blew in from Africa last week.

READ MORE: Wildfires rage across Europe amid record heat wave

So far, there have been no fire-related deaths in France or Spain. In Portugal, a pilot of a firefighting plane was killed when his plane crashed on Friday.

But with temperatures remaining unusually high, heat-related deaths have soared amid a heat wave that the European Union says is the work of climate change.

In Spain, the second heat wave of the summer has kept highs above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many areas, reaching peaks of 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) regularly. According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related deaths daily, 360 deaths were attributed to high temperatures between July 10 and 15. That compared with 27 temperature-related deaths in the previous six days.

The death of a sweeper after suffering a heat stroke while working has led the City Council of the Spanish capital to give its sweepers the option to work in the afternoon to avoid the worst gusts of the day.

In France, the fire at La Teste-de-Buch, near the Atlantic coast, has forced 10,000 people to flee the popular seaside resort area of ​​Arcachon. The Gironde regional government said on Sunday that “the situation remains unfavourable” due to gusty winds which, combined with hot and dry conditions, have led to more outbreaks overnight. That led to a protracted fight to protect the camps.

A second fire near the town of Landiras, a vineyard valley south of Bordeaux, has forced authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week, including some 1,900 on Saturday. Officials said one flank has been controlled by the dumping of white sand along a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) stretch. Another flank, however, remains unchecked.

Overall, more than 10,300 (25,400) hectares of land have burned in the two fires.

Emergency officials warned that high temperatures and winds on Sunday and Monday would complicate efforts to stop the fires from spreading.

“We have to be very cautious and very humble, because the day will be very hot. We do not have a favorable time window. The site is very, very hot and very active,” regional fire official Eric Florensan said on local France-Bleu radio on Sunday.

A View Of Burning Trees In The Middle Of A Forest Fire Near Landiras

A view shows trees burning amid a fire that broke out near Landiras, as forest fires continue to spread in the Gironde region of southwestern France, in this handout photograph taken on July 16, 2022 and obtained of the Gironde region fire brigade (SDIS 33) on July 17, 2022. SDIS 33/Handout via Reuters.

Temperatures of up to 104 F (40 C) are forecast in the area, with Monday expected to be the hottest day in an extreme weather stretch of July.

Some of the most worrying fires in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has announced a joint command that will be in charge of coordinating the efforts to combat the fires that are active in the neighboring counties.

Firefighters have not been able to stop the advance of a fire that has broken out near the city of Cáceres that threatens the Monfragüe National Park and has prevented 200 people from returning to their homes.

Another fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga has forced the evacuation of another 2,500 people. There are more fires near the central city of Ávila, in northwestern Galicia, among other areas.

Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete have also battled wildfires this week, as have Morocco and California.

Scorching temperatures have reached as far north as Britain, where its weather agency has issued its first “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England can reach 40 C (104 F). for the first time. .

That will still be relatively bearable compared to the 47 C (117 F) recorded in the northern Portuguese town of Pinhao on Wednesday, setting a new national record.

Wilson reported from Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Nation World News Desk
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