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Fires ravage French forests near Atlantic as Europe heats up

| July 15, 2022 12:35 PM

By ANGELA CHARLTON and BARBARA SURK Associated Press

PARIS — Challenged by high temperatures and strong winds, 1,000 firefighters and 10 water-dumping planes struggled Friday to contain two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France that have forced the evacuation of 11,300 people and ravaged pine forests near the Atlantic coast.

The French wildfires were among several scorching different areas of Europe this week.

One of the French fires is in woodlands just south of the Atlantic resort town of Arcachon, a major attraction for visitors during the summer season. The other is in parkland not far from valleys dotted with vineyards that have struggled with hotter, drier weather than usual this year that authorities have linked to climate change.

More than 7,000 hectares of land have been consumed by the fires, according to the regional emergency service. As the fires stretched into a fourth day Friday, one was partially contained, it said, but warned that hotter temperatures and winds over the weekend could further complicate firefighting efforts.

“We are living through an exceptionally harsh (summer) season,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday during a visit to the government crisis management center at the Interior Ministry in Paris. The number of French forests burnt in fires this year is already triple those destroyed in 2020, Macron said.

Some of the firefighting planes and equipment that were supposed to be displayed in Thursday’s Bastille Day parade in Paris were diverted for use on the Bordeaux region fires. Wildfires also broke out in southeast France and north of Paris.

Portugal has been particularly hard hit by wildfires this week. More than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside ordinary Portuguese 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 raging Friday, with ones in the north causing the most concern.

Portuguese state television RTP reported Friday that the area burned this year has already exceeded the total for 2021. More than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land has been burned, it said, most in the past week.

Meanwhile, Portuguese authorities said a July national high of 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) was registered in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, the hottest day of the year so far.

Spain, Croatia and Hungary have also fought wildfires this week. For a fifth day, firefighters in Spain were battling Friday to try to bring under control a fire started by a lightning strike in the west-central Las Hurdes area that has consumed about 5,500 hectares (13,600 acres).

Some 400 people from eight villages were evacuated late Thursday as the flames approached their houses and threatened to spread into the nearby Monfrague National Park.

The government said Friday that 17 fires across Spain kept firefighters busy. In northeastern Catalonia, authorities restricted access to several mountain areas to avoid possible fires.

The European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces another extreme weather shift that scientists say is being triggered by climate change.

In the Spanish city of Seville, one of the hottest spots in Europe this week, some unions called for workers to be sent home. Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been topping the 40 C (104 F) mark for several days and are expected to keep doing so through next week.

Seville became the first city in the world to take part in a pilot project that names and categorizes heatwaves in an effort to raise awareness of the health hazards caused by extreme heat and the precautions citizens should take.

“Climate-driven extreme heat is killing more people than any other of the climate-driven hazards. Heat is invisible, it is silent and it kills slowly, and people are not aware of it," said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center of the Atlantic Council.

Britain’s Met Office weather agency warned Friday that record temperatures expected next week pose a risk of “serious illness or danger to life.”

The office issued its first-ever “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England are forecast to reach 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). There is a chance that temperatures could breach the highest-ever recorded in the U.K. — 38.7C (101.7F), which was set in 2019.

The Met Office weather alert, which covers a big chunk of England from London up to Manchester, warns of danger to life, disruption to air and rail travel and potential “localized loss of power and other essential services, such as water or mobile phone services.”


Danica Kirka in London contributed.