LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France ( Associated Press) — A heat wave sweeping Europe spilled north into Britain Monday and sparked fierce wildfires in Spain and France, evacuating thousands and sending planes carrying bombs of water and firefighters to fight the flames in the tinder. dry forests
Two people died in the fires in Spain that its prime minister linked to global warming, saying: “Climate change kills.”
That number comes on top of the hundreds of heat-related deaths reported on the Iberian peninsula, as high temperatures have gripped the continent in recent days, sparking wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans. Some areas, including northern Italy, are also experiencing prolonged drought. Climate change is making these life-threatening extremes less rare, and heat waves have even reached places like Britain, which braced for possible record temperatures.
Hot weather in the UK was expected to be so severe this week that train operators warned it could warp rails and some schools have installed paddling pools to help children cool off.
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In France, heat records were broken and swirling hot winds complicated firefighting in the south-west of the country.
“The fire is literally exploding,” said Marc Vermeulen, the regional fire service chief, who described how tree trunks were breaking apart as the flames consumed them, sending smoldering embers into the air and spreading the flames further.
“We are facing extreme and exceptional circumstances,” he said.
Authorities evacuated more towns and moved another 14,900 people from areas that could be in the path of fires and choking smoke. In total, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and summer vacation spots in the Gironde region since the wildfires began on July 12.
Three additional planes were dispatched to join six others battling the fires, scooping up seawater and making repeated runs through thick clouds of smoke, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday night.
More than 200 reinforcements headed to join the 1,500 firefighters trying to contain the flames in the Gironde, where flames approached prized vineyards and belched smoke across the Arcachon sea basin, famous for its oysters and beaches.
Meanwhile, Spain reported a second death in two days in its own fires. The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found Monday in the same mountainous area where a 62-year-old firefighter died a day earlier when he was trapped by flames in the northwestern province of Zamora. More than 30 forest fires across Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and blackened 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of forest and scrub.
Passengers on a train through Zamora saw a terrifying fire up close as their train stopped in the countryside. Video of the unscheduled and unnerving stop showed a dozen passengers in one carriage panicking as they gazed out windows at flames engulfing both sides of the track.
Climate scientists say heat waves are becoming more intense, more frequent and longer due to climate change and, along with droughts, have made wildfires harder to fight. They say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
“Climate change kills,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the scene of three major fires. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, described her country as “literally under fire” while attending climate change talks in Berlin.
It warned of “frightening prospects still for days to come,” after more than 10 days of temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), cooling only moderately at night.
At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 C (117 F) earlier this month.
The heat wave in Spain is forecast to ease on Tuesday, but the respite will be short as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, especially in the dry western region of Extremadura.
In Britain, officials have issued the first extreme heat warning and the weather service has predicted the record high of 101.7 F (38.7 C), set in 2019, could be broken.
“Forty-one is not out of the question,” said Penelope Endersby, director general of the Met Office. “We even have some 43 in the model, but we hope it won’t be that high.”
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France’s often-temperate Brittany region sweltered with a record 39.3 C (102.7 F) degrees in the port of Brest, topping a high of 35.1 C that had stood since September 2003, it said. the French weather service Meteo-France.
Regional records in France were broken in more than a dozen cities, as the weather service said Monday was “the hottest day of this heat wave.”
The Balkan region was expecting the worst of the heat later this week, but has already seen sporadic wildfires.
Earlier Monday, Slovenian authorities said firefighters had a blaze under control. Croatia sent a water-dropping plane there to help after battling its own wildfires along the Adriatic Sea last week. A fire in Sibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes but was later extinguished.
In Portugal, much cooler weather on Monday helped fire crews make progress. More than 600 firefighters attended four large fires in the north of Portugal.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq. Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and Jovana Gec from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed.