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Europe rumbles in heatwave that fuels fires in France and Spain

LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France (AP) — A heat wave that scorched Europe moved north into Britain on Monday and fueled ferocious forest fires in Spain and France, which have evacuated thousands of people and dispatched water bomber planes and firefighters to battle the flames spreading through the tinder-dry forests.

Two people have been killed in fires in Spain that the country’s prime minister has linked to global warming, saying, “Climate change kills”.

In recent days, unusually high temperatures have gripped swaths of Europe, sparking wildfires from Portugal to the Balkan region. Some countries are also experiencing prolonged droughts. Climate change is making these life-threatening extremes less rare – and has brought heat waves even to places like Britain, which have braced for potentially record-breaking temperatures.

The hot weather in the UK was expected to be so severe this week that train operators warned it could warp the tracks and some schools have installed paddling pools to help children cool off.

French forecasters have also warned of possible record high temperatures as swirling hot winds complicate firefighting efforts in the country’s southwest.

“The fire is literally exploding,” said regional fire chief Marc Vermeulen, who described tree trunks snapping as flames consumed them, sending scorching embers into the air and spreading the flames further.

“We are facing extreme and exceptional circumstances,” he said.

This photo provided by the firefighters of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) shows a forest fire near Landiras, in the south-west of France, on July 17, 2022.

Authorities began evacuating more towns, moving an additional 11,500 people from areas at risk of getting in the way of the fires and their thick clouds of choking smoke. This will bring to nearly 28,000 the number of people who have been driven from their homes in the Gironde region since the fires began on July 12.

Three more planes were sent to join six others already battling the fires, scooping up seawater into their tanks and performing repeated flights through thick clouds of smoke, the Ministry of Health announced on Sunday evening. Interior.

More than 200 reinforcements headed towards the 1,500 firefighters who fought night and day to contain the fires in the Gironde, where the flames moved closer to prized vineyards and the maritime basin of Arcachon famous for its oysters and beaches .

Spain, meanwhile, reported a second death in two days as it battled its own fires. The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found on Monday in the same hilly area where a 62-year-old firefighter died a day earlier when he was caught in the flames in Zamora province, northeastern west. More than 30 wildfires around Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and blackened 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of forest and brush.

Climatologists say heat waves are more intense, more frequent and longer due to climate change – and coupled with droughts, they 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, where firefighters fought three major blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and our biodiversity.”

Teresa Ribera, Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister, described her country as “literally under fire” as she attended climate change talks in Berlin.

She warned of “a terrifying outlook still for the days ahead” – after more than 10 days of temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), cooling only moderately overnight.

Europe rumbles in heatwave that fuels fires in France and Spain
This photo provided by the firefighters of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) shows a forest fire near Landiras, in the south-west of France, on July 17, 2022.

SDIS 33 via Associated Press

According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related deaths daily, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-14. This was compared with 25 heat-related deaths the previous week.

Spain’s heat wave is expected to ease on Tuesday, but the respite will be brief as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, particularly in the dry western region of Extremadura.

In Britain, authorities have issued the first-ever extreme heat warning, and the meteorological service predicts the record high of 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019, could be broken.

“Forty-one is not out of place,” said Penelope Endersby, CEO of the Met Office. “We even have 43s in the model, but hopefully it won’t be as high as that.”

The Balkan region has also seen sporadic wildfires and is expecting the worst from the heat later this week.

Europe rumbles in heatwave that fuels fires in France and Spain
Residents shield themselves from smoke as a wildfire progresses near a residential area in Alhaurin de la Torre, Malaga, Spain, July 16, 2022. Wildfires continue to spread across Spain as Firefighters are trying to bring them under control.

AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero

Early Monday, Slovenian authorities said firefighters had managed to bring a blaze under control. Croatia sent a water-dropping plane there to help fight the blazes after battling its own wildfires along the Adriatic Sea coast 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 against the blazes. More than 600 firefighters attended four major fires in northern Portugal.

Leicester reported from Pecq. Associated Press reporters Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

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