Fires scorch France and Spain as Europe wilts under extreme heat wave

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Authorities in France and across southwest Europe are battling to control huge wildfires and thousands of people have been evacuated in soaring temperatures.

Blazes raging in France, Spain, Portugal and Greece have destroyed thousands of hectares of land, forced people from their homes and killed several emergency personnel since last week.

It is the second heatwave engulfing parts of southwest Europe in weeks.

Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather such as heatwaves and drought.

Heat is intensifying

In France, more than 1,200 firefighters were fighting on Sunday to control two wildfires which have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares in the southwestern region of Gironde.

But strong winds and hot, dry weather are frustrating their efforts.

More than 14,000 people – residents and tourists – have been evacuated, the regional authorities said on Sunday afternoon.

"The heat is intensifying. The heatwave is spreading across the country," the weather office said.

France placed 15 departments, mainly down its Atlantic seaboard, on red high alert on Sunday.

Authorities in the French Alps urged climbers bound for Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rock falls caused by "exceptional climatic conditions" and "drought".

Rugged terrain

In Spain, firefighters supported by the armed forces' emergency brigades are still trying to stamp out over 30 fires consuming forests spread across the country.

The blazes have destroyed around 4,500 hectares.

Helicopters dropped water on the flames as searing heat and often mountainous terrain made the job harder for firefighters.

A fire in the Mijas mountains, inland from the coastal city of Malaga, forced the evacuation of over 3,000 people, but 2,000 have since returned to their homes.

Spain's national weather agency AEMET issued "signifcantly high" temperature for Sunday, with highs of 42C forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north.

Spain has been experiencing a nearly week-long heatwave, with highs of 45.7C.

According to the Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related fatalities daily, 360 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-15.

Drought in Portugal

In Portugal, firefighters were trying to control five forest and rural fires in the centre and north of the country, the largest near the northern city of Chaves.

The Health Ministry said late on Saturday that in the last seven days 659 people had died due to the heatwave, most of them elderly.

It said the weekly peak of 440 deaths was on Thursday, when temperatures as high as 47C were recorded in the district of Vizeu in the centre of the country.

The country is grappling with extreme drought – mainland Portugal already had 96 percent of its territory in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, before the recent heatwave, according to data from national meteorological institute IPMA.

Greece, UK

In Greece, the fire brigade said on Saturday 71 blazes broke out within 24 hours.

On Sunday, more than 150 firefighters were tackling a fire burning forest and farm land since Friday in Rethymno on the island of Crete.

The flames were fuelled by strong winds. Local fire brigade officials said on Sunday it had been partially contained.

The scorching temperatures have reached as far north as Britain, where the weather agency has issued its first-ever "red warning" of extreme heat for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.

It warns temperatures could reach 40C, topping the previous record of 38.7C in 2019.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan advised people in the capital to use public transport only if "absolutely necessary".

The fight against the flames has also claimed the lives of a number of emergency personnel.

On Friday, a pilot was killed when his plane crashed in northern Portugal and two people died in Greece when their helicopter fell into the sea.

(with newswires)

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