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Europe braces for highest temperatures amid widespread wildfires; Britain, France on alert

Jul 18, 2022 03:26 PM IST

Britain is on high alert with temperature likely to breach 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. France, Portugal, Greece and Spain are facing widespread wildfires for the second week.

With temperatures rising to record levels, Britain and France were put on high alert on Monday as they braced for a heatwave amid massive wildfires raging in several parts of Europe that showed no signs of abating.

Fire engines drive during a wildfire in El Pont de Vilomara, north of Barcelona, Spain. (REUTERS)
Fire engines drive during a wildfire in El Pont de Vilomara, north of Barcelona, Spain. (REUTERS)

Portugal, Greece, Spain and France are among countries in southwest Europe dealing with widespread blazes across hectares of forest land, putting thousands of lives at risk.

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France

In France, weather forecasters have put 15 departments on the highest state of alert for extreme temperatures. In Landes forest, in the southwest Aquitaine region, temperatures are expected to be “above 42 degrees Celsius” on Monday, forecaster Olivier Proust told AFP. Other regions such as Brittany and Gironde will also record temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius.

The wildfires in France forced more than 16,000 people – residents and tourists combined – to decamp. The French interior ministry said it would send an extra three firefighting planes, 200 firefighters and more trucks.

"In some southwestern areas, it will be a heat apocalypse," meteorologist Francois Gourand told AFP.

The chapel of a historic hospital in the southeastern city of Lyon, Grand Hotel Dieu, offered refuge to tourists on Sunday.

“We came back to admire the place, but we can't leave, it's too hot outside. We say a prayer before the fire!” said Jean-Marc, 51, who was visiting from Alsace.

Britain

In Britain, the weather office issued a "red" warning for extreme heat for the first time ever, cautioning there was a "risk to life". The Met Office said temperatures in southern England could exceed 40C on Monday or Tuesday for the first time.

Ambulance services are on crisis footing, and some schools in southern England have already said they will stay shut.

The government faced the wrath for failing to take the heat emergency seriously despite the forecasters' warning.

"This isn't like a lovely hot day where we can put a bit of sunscreen on, go out and enjoy a swim and a meal outside," College of Paramedics chief executive Tracy Nicholls was quoted as saying by Sky News.

Spain

In Spain, the authorities said that a member of the fire service died on Sunday while extinguishing forest fires at Losacio in the northwestern Zamora region. The fires have already killed several civilians and emergency personnel since last week.

Around 20 wildfires are still raging out of control in different parts of Spain from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where blazes have destroyed around 4,500 hectares of land, authorities have said.

Portugal

In Portugal, almost the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, after hitting 47 degrees Celsius – a record for the month of July – last week. The fires have killed two, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.

The heatwave that started in southwest Europe is now spreading north, forcing thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee. Scientists have blamed climate change for the extreme weather conditions and predict more frequent and intense episodes of heatwaves and drought.

(With agency inputs)

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