Fires are scorching France and Spain as temperature-related deaths soar in Europe’s heatwave


Paris – Firefighters on Sunday struggled to contain wildfires that were raging out of control in France and Spain while Europe shriveled under unusually extreme proportions heat wave authorities have linked to an increase in excess mortality.

Two huge blazes that spent six days consuming pine forests south of the city of Bordeaux in south-west France have forced the evacuation of around 14,000 people, including many who were supposed to be camping for their holidays.

In Spain, firefighters, aided by the armed forces’ emergency brigades, are trying to put out more than 30 fires that are ravaging forests across the country. Spain’s National Defense Ministry said “the majority” of its firefighting planes were deployed. Many areas are rugged, hilly terrain making access difficult for ground crew.

So far there have been no deaths from fires in France or Spain. A pilot of a fire-fighting plane died when his plane crashed in Portugal on Friday.

However, as temperatures remain abnormally high, heat-related deaths have risen sharply.

In Spain, the second heatwave of the summer has kept highs above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many areas. From July 10-14, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures, according to Spain’s Carlos III institute, which records temperature-related deaths every day. That was compared to 25 temperature-related deaths in the previous five days.

In France, the fire in La Teste-de-Buch near the Atlantic coast has forced 10,000 people to flee. The Gironde regional government said on Sunday that “the situation remains unfavourable” due to gusty winds which combined with hot and dry conditions overnight have fueled further bouts.

The public watches a fire in La Teste-de-Buch in south-west France on July 16, 2022.

GAIZKA IROZ/AFP via Getty Images

A second fire near the town of Landiras, south of a valley of Bordeaux vineyards, has forced authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week, including about 1,900 on Saturday. Authorities said a flank was brought under control by dumping white sand over a two-kilometer stretch. Another edge, however, remains unchecked.

Some of the most worrying fires in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced a joint command to coordinate efforts to fight the fires in the adjacent regions.

Firefighters could not stop the advance of a fire that broke out near the city of Cáceres, which has threatened the Monfragüe National Park and 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 other fires near the central city of Ávila in north-western Galicia.

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

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

That will be relatively tolerable compared to the 47 C (117 F) measured in Portugal’s northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, which set a new national record.

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