Thousands of firefighters battled more than 20 fires that swept across Portugal and western Spain on Wednesday, threatening towns and disrupting holidaymakers amid a heat wave that pushed temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius in some parts. of Europe.
In France, hundreds of firefighters, supported by six bomber planes, battled two wildfires in the southwest, prompting the evacuation of thousands of campers, Gironde prefect Fabienne Buccio said.
In Santiago de Guarda, in the central Portuguese district of Leiria, Albertina Francisco fought back tears as a cloud of black smoke rose over the small town.
“It was very hard,” said Francisco, 42, who was helping his sick sister evacuate. “No one helped, the firefighters and the (water bomber) plane just got here… The state needs to do more to help us.”
Some villagers rescued pets while others helped firefighters fight the flames.
In Leiria, where more than 3,000 hectares have burned so far, authorities blocked main highways and secondary streets as strong winds made it difficult for firefighters to put out the flames. Portugal’s most important highway, which connects its capital Lisbon with Porto, was also blocked by another fire further north.
Nearly 900 firefighters were fighting three active fires in Leiria alone, while throughout mainland Portugal there were 2,841 firefighters on the ground and 860 vehicles.
In the Algarve region of southern Portugal popular with tourists, a fire broke out in the city of Faro and spread to the luxury resort Quinta do Lago. Videos shared online showed flames approaching villas, burning palm trees and parts of golf courses.
Around half of drought-affected Portugal will remain on red alert for extreme heat conditions on Thursday, with the highest temperatures expected in the districts of Santarem and Castelo Branco, the IPMA meteorological institute said.
Wednesday’s highest temperature was recorded in the central city of Lousa at 46.3 degrees C, one degree below the 2003 record.
Retiree Antonio Ramalheiro blamed inadequate forest management in addition to the heat wave for the forest fires.
“It’s scary when the fire comes,” the 62-year-old said. “If it comes to the house, it’s a disgrace… you lose everything.”
At least 135 people have suffered mainly minor injuries since the forest fires began in Portugal last week, and some 800 people have been evacuated from their homes, according to the Civil Protection Authority.
More than 2,700 hectares have so far burned in France’s Gironde region, Prefect Buccio told BFM TV. The larger of the two fires is around the town of Landiras, south of Bordeaux, where roads have been closed and 500 residents have been evacuated.
The other is along the Atlantic coast, near the iconic Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune, in the Arcachon Bay area, over which clouds of dark smoke were seen rising in heaven.
That fire caused the preventive evacuation of 6,000 people from five surrounding campsites. They were taken to a local exhibition center for shelter.
“Other campers woke us up around 4:30 in the morning. We had to leave immediately and quickly choose what to take with us,” Christelle, one of the evacuee tourists, told BFM TV.
On the eve of Bastille Day, the Gironde prefecture has banned all fireworks until Monday in cities and towns near the forests.
The World Meteorological Organization warned on Tuesday that the heat wave was spreading and intensifying across much of Europe.
With human-caused climate change causing droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 UN report.
Scorching temperatures also swept across China’s vast Yangtze River basin on Wednesday; firefighters tackled a forest fire near the tourist town of Datca in Turkey; and power demand in Texas hit an all-time high as consumers cranked up their air conditioners to escape the heat.
In Spain’s western region of Extremadura, bordering Portugal, firefighters battled a blaze that swept through the province of Salamanca in the Castilla y León region, burning more than 4,000 hectares.
Parts of the Extremadura, Andalusia and Galicia regions were on red alert for extreme heat, Spain’s AEMET weather service said, adding that the country’s highest temperature on Wednesday was 45.6 C in Huelva province.