Europe burns in heat wave that is fueling fires in France and Spain

LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, FRANCE (AP) – The heat wave that smashed from Europe on Monday has spread north into Britain. It ignited fierce wildfires in Spain and France, evacuating thousands of people and rushing planes and firefighters to bombard water to fight fires in dry forests.

Two people have been killed in Spain’s fires which its prime minister has linked to global warming, saying “climate change is killing”.

This toll comes on top of hundreds of heat-related deaths reported on the Iberian Peninsula, as rising temperatures swept the continent. In recent days it has caused wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans. Some regions, including northern Italy, also experience extended droughts. Climate change is making such life-threatening extremes less rare — and heat waves have even reached places like Britain, which have braced for possible record temperatures.

Hot weather in the UK was expected this week to be so extreme that train operators have warned it could deform rails and some schools have set up swimming pools to help children cool off.

In France, temperature records are shattering, and hot winds have complicated firefighting in the southwest of the country.

“The fire is literally exploding,” said Mark Vermeulen, chief of the regional fire service, describing logs that smashed while the flames devoured them, spreading embers into the air and further spreading the fires.

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

Authorities evacuated more towns, and moved another 14,900 people from areas that might find themselves in the path of fires and smothering smoke. In all, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and summer vacation spots in the Gironde since the bushfires broke out on 12 July.

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The Ministry of Interior announced, on Sunday evening, that three additional planes were sent to join six other planes fighting fires, catching sea water and making repeated rounds through thick clouds of smoke.

More than 200 reinforcements headed out to join the 1,500 firefighters trying to contain the fires in the Gironde, as the flames approached precious vineyards and smoke billowed across the Arcachon marine basin famous for its oysters and beaches..

Meanwhile, Spain reported a second death in two days in its fires. The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found on Monday in the same mountainous region where a 62-year-old firefighter had died the day before when a fire was trapped in the northwestern province of Zamora. More than 30 forest fires around Spain have evacuated thousands of people and blackened 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of forest and grass.

Passengers of a train passing through Zamora received a frightening, up close look at a fire, when their train stopped in the countryside. A video of the unscheduled – and nerve-wracking – stop showed that about ten passengers in a train car became anxious They look out the windows at the flames encroaching on both sides of the path.

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(AP video / Renata Brito)

Climate scientists say heat waves are more intense, more frequent and longer because of climate change – plus droughts have made wildfires more difficult. They say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

“Climate change is killing,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the site of three major fires. “It’s killing people, it’s killing our ecosystems and biodiversity.”

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Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for environmental transformation, described her country as “really under fire” while attending talks on climate change in Berlin..

And she warned of the “terrifying prospects for the days ahead” – after more than 10 days of temperatures above 40C (104F), it cooled only moderately at night.

At least 748 heat-related deaths were reported in the heatwave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) earlier this month.

The heat wave in Spain is expected to subside on Tuesday, but the respite will be short as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, especially in the dry western Extremadura region.

In Britain, officials issued the first-ever severe heat warning, and the Meteorological Service predicted that the record high of 38.7 degrees Celsius (101.7 Fahrenheit), set in 2019, could shatter.

“Forty-one is not off the cards,” said Penelope Endersby, CEO of the Met Office. “We have up to 43 seconds in the form, but we hope it won’t be that high.”

France’s often temperate region of Brittany, France’s meteorological service, said the French meteorological service blazed a record 39.3 degrees Celsius (102.7 Fahrenheit) in the port of Brest, surpassing the 35.1 degrees Celsius that had been in place since September 2003.

Regional records were broken in France in more than a dozen cities, with the weather service saying Monday was “the hottest day in this heatwave”.

The Balkans expected the worst temperatures later this week, but have already seen sporadic wildfires.

Early Monday, authorities in Slovenia said firefighters had brought one fire under control. Croatia has sent a water-dropping plane there to help after last week battling its own wildfires along the Adriatic Sea. A fire in Šibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes but was later put out.

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In Portugal, cooler weather on Monday helped firefighters make progress. More than 600 firefighters were involved in four major fires in northern Portugal.

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Lister Report from Le Pecq. Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London, Associated Press reporters, Jair Molson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and Jovana Jake from Belgrade, Serbia contributed.

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Follow the Associated Press’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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