Deadly wildfires spread in Portugal, France and Spain as heatwave grips Europe

·3-min read
Wildfires in Portugal have already killed one person  (EPA)
Wildfires in Portugal have already killed one person (EPA)

Thousands of firefighters are battling deadly fires that have swept across Europe this week as a heatwave grips the continent.

A ferocious blaze has ripped through the pine forests in the Bordeaux region of France for five days straight, while wildfires in Portugal have killed one person.

The pilot of a firefighting plane died on Friday when his plane crashed on an operation in the northeast of Portugal.

More than 160 people have been injured by the blaze and hundreds have been evacuated from towns this week.

Image taken by the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite shows land surface temperatures reaching nearly 50C around the town of Verkhoyansk (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery)
Image taken by the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite shows land surface temperatures reaching nearly 50C around the town of Verkhoyansk (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery)

Gemma Suarez, a Spanish farmer evacuated from Casas de Miravete, sobbed as she spoke of the ordeal: “What a night. We haven’t slept all night.

“A social worker came to see me to go and pick up my elderly uncle. We spent the night in Navalmoral, but we didn’t sleep at all. I have never seen such a big fire.”

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after an unusually dry, hot spring that authorities attribute to climate change.

Some 3,000 firefighters backed by water-dumping planes are battling blazes in southern France and Greece has sent firefighting equipment to help.

More than 11,000 people have been evacuated from villages and camping grounds.

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after an unusually dry, hot spring that authorities attribute to climate change (EPA)
Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after an unusually dry, hot spring that authorities attribute to climate change (EPA)

Firefighters managed to contain one of the worst fires overnight, near the Atlantic coast resort of Arcachon, which is popular with tourists from around Europe, the regional emergency service said on Saturday.

But it added that “tough meteorological conditions” thwarted efforts to contain the biggest fire in the region, which started in the town of Landiras, south of a valley of Bordeaux vineyards.

They are focusing efforts on using fire engines to surround villages at risk and save as many homes as possible, Charles Lafourcade, overseeing the firefighting operation, told reporters at the scene.

The two fires have burned at least 23,800 acres of land in recent days.

The fire brigade of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) battle a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France (AP)
The fire brigade of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) battle a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France (AP)

A similar scene is playing out in Portugal, where more than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside ordinary citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions.

The country’s Civil Protection Agency said 10 fires were still burning on Friday.

Portuguese state television RTP reported on Friday that the area burned this year had already exceeded the total for 2021. More than 74,000 acres of land have been burned, it said, most of it in the past week.

In southern Andalusia, Spain, 3,000 people were evacuated from villages in danger from a blaze started near the village of Mijas in the province of Malaga. Around 200 firefighters, supported by 18 aircraft, tried to contain the fire. Authorities were investigating its cause.

Thousands of firefighters are battling deadly fires that have swept across Europe this week (AFP via Getty Images)
Thousands of firefighters are battling deadly fires that have swept across Europe this week (AFP via Getty Images)

For a sixth day, firefighters were also trying to bring under control a fire started by a lightning strike in the west-central Las Hurdes area. Some 400 people from eight villages were evacuated on Friday as the flames approached their houses and threatened to spread into nearby Monfragüe National Park.

Croatia and Hungary have also fought wildfires this week, as have California and Morocco. Many European countries are facing exceptional heat this month, and it is being attributed to climate change.

Portuguese authorities said a July national high of 47C was registered in the northern town of Pinhão on Wednesday.

European Union officials issued a warning last week that climate change was behind the extremely dry and hot summer so far on the continent, urging local authorities to brace themselves and residents for wildfires.

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