Western Europe heatwave to peak in Spain as searing heat fuels wildfires
The heat wave sweeping southwestern Europe is expected to peak in Spain on Thursday, with blistering temperatures already fueling wildfires in the Iberian Peninsula and France.
The warming phenomenon – the second this summer in the region – is expected to continue through the middle of the week, with southern Spain expected to experience some of the harshest temperatures.
“Thursday we expect it to be the hottest day of this heat wave,” said the Spanish meteorological agency AEMET.
The valleys around three major rivers — the Guadiana, Guadalquivir and Tagus — will experience stifling temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), it said.
Most of Spain was placed on high alert on Wednesday, and AEMET said some regions were “suffocating” – especially in the hardest hit Andalusia to the south, Extremadura to the southwest and Galicia to the northwest.
The country’s health ministry told people to drink plenty of fluids, wear light clothing and stay in shade or air-conditioned rooms to avoid affecting their “vital functions”.
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The highest temperature Wednesday was recorded in the Andalusian city of Almonte, where the mercury reached 45.6 degrees Celsius at 5:30 PM (1530 GMT).
Several other southern cities such as Seville and Cordoba had temperatures above 44 degrees.
In western Spain, near the border with Portugal, forest fires have already destroyed at least 3,500 hectares.
More than 70,300 hectares of forest went up in smoke in Spain between January 1 and July 3, the government said – almost double the average for the past 10 years.
French forest fires
Temperatures in Spain are expected to ease by the end of the week, but the stifling climate in northwestern Europe could continue as it moves towards France and Britain.
Britain has issued an “orange” warning – the second highest of three tiers – as a UK climate official said there was a chance Britain’s highest temperature, the 38.7°C, set on 25 July 2019. was registered in Cambridge Botanic Garden, would be surpassed.
Meteorological services in France also warned that the situation “would become intense between Sunday and Tuesday” – possibly more than 40°C before dipping on Wednesday.
A forest fire in southwestern France has been raging since Tuesday, destroying 1,000 hectares of pine trees just south of Bordeaux and forcing the evacuation of 150 people from their homes.
Near the Dune of Pilat – Europe’s tallest sand dune – another fire has consumed about 700 acres of old pine trees, officials there said, resulting in the evacuation of about 6,000 campers near the dune.
Further inland, 500 people were evacuated around the French village of Guillos as their homes were threatened by advancing fire.
“There were flames on top of the 100-foot trees,” Mayor Mylene Doreau told AFP.
“We could see them moving towards the village, it was scary.”
Some 600 firefighters have fought the fires in the region, aided by water bombers.
To mitigate the risk of accidental fires, some cities, including Toulouse and Lourdes, made changes to their Bastille Day celebrations on Thursday. Nimes just canceled the traditional fireworks altogether.
‘The end of the world’
Spectators at the annual Tour de France, which currently traverses the French Alps, saw the riders tackle some of the cycling race’s toughest climbs in the blazing sun on Wednesday.
“They really feel the heat. I’m just standing here watching,” French student Jean Gosselin, 18, said sympathetically.
Heat waves have become more frequent due to climate change, scientists say, the previous ones in France, Portugal and Spain only occurred last month.
Last week, 11 people died in an avalanche triggered by the collapse of the largest glacier in the Italian Alps – due to unusually warm temperatures.
In Greece, a helicopter that helped fight a forest fire on the island of Samos on Wednesday crashed into the Aegean Sea, the coastguard said on Wednesday. Two crew members were seriously injured.
And in Portugal – on alert for wildfires for days – one person had died in a wildfire, authorities said, after a body was found in a burned area in the northern region of Aveiro.
In Leiria, in central Portugal, local residents fought to save their village as the fires approached them.
“Everything burned down yesterday except the houses, because the people are very brave and defended them themselves,” said 77-year-old farmer Adelino Rodrigues.
“The fire brigade arrived much later.”
It evoked memories of the devastating forest fires in 2017, which claimed the lives of more than 100 people in Portugal.
“It seemed like the end of the world,” he recalls.