JERTE, Spain, July 17 – 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 consistent with climate change.
In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as heat above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), and often mountainous terrain made the job harder for firefighters.
Shocked residents watching thick plumes of smoke rising above the central western Jerte valley said the heat was making their previously green and fabulous home more like Spain’s semi-arid south.
“Climate change affects everyone,” said resident Miguel Angel Tamayo.
A study published in June in the journal Environmental Research: Climate’ concluded that climate change was highly probable to be worsening heatwaves. read more
At least 1,000 deaths have been attributed to Portugal and Spain’s heatwave. Temperatures in Spain have reached as high as 45.7C (114F) during the nearly week-long heatwave.
Spain’s weather agency issued temperature warnings for Sunday, with highs of 42 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north. It said the heatwave would end on Monday but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
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Fires raged in several other regions on Sunday afternoon, including Castille and Leon in central Spain and Galicia in the north. In Malaga province in southern Spain, wildfires raged into the night, affecting residents near Mijas, a town popular with northern European tourists.
British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy fled for safety with other evacuees in a local sports centre from their home on Saturday as the fire approached.
“It was very fast …. 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 by that stage everybody along the street was on the move,” Ellen said.
In France, wildfires have now spread over 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the southwestern region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people have been evacuated, regional authorities said on Sunday afternoon.
The authorities said more than 1,200 firefighters were trying to control the blazes.
France issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, with residents urged “to be extremely vigilant”.
In Italy, where smaller fires have blazed recently, forecasters expect temperatures above 40C in several regions in the coming days.
Similar temperatures are forecast in Britain on Monday and Tuesday in what would top a previous record of 38.7C (102F) set in Cambridge in 2019.
Britain’s national weather forecaster has issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England. Rail passengers were advised to only travel if necessary and to expect widespread delays and cancellations.
DROUGHT IN PORTUGAL
Portugal’s Health Ministry said late on Saturday that 659 people died due to the heatwave in the last seven days, most of them elderly. It told the weekly peak of 440 deaths was on Thursday, when temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in several regions and 47C (117F) at a meteorological station in the district of Viseu in the centre of the country.
By Saturday, there were 360 heat-related deaths in Spain, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.
Portugal is grappling with extreme drought – with 96% of the mainland in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, before the recent heatwave, according to data from the national meteorological institute.
Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes urged people not to ignite new fires in bone-dry conditions.
In Greece, the fire brigade said 71 blazes had broken out within a 24-hour period on Saturday. On Sunday, local fire brigade officials on Crete said it had partially contained a fire raging through forest and farmland.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi extolled the vaccination milestone, celebrating the world’s most extensive and longest-running inoculation campaign, which began last year.
“India creates history again!” Modi said in a tweet. The prime minister has faced allegations from the opposition of mishandling the pandemic that experts claim killed millions, and the government rejects the claims.
Health ministry data shows the COVID death toll at 525,709, with 49 deaths recorded overnight.
New cases rose to 20,528 over the past 24 hours, the highest since Feb. 20, according to data compiled by Reuters.
The country of 1.35 billion people has lifted most COVID-related restrictions, and international travel has recovered robustly.
Some 80% of the vaccinations have been the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine made domestically, Covishield. Others include domestically developed Covaxin and Corbevax and Russia’s Sputnik V.
The federal government has been accelerating its booster campaign to avert the spread of infections, increasing in the eastern states of Assam, West Bengal and Karnataka in the south.