Fires scorch France and Spain as temperature-related deaths soar in Europe

Historic drought in Italy threatens pasta

Paris — Firefighters struggled on Sunday to contain wildfires raging out of control in France and Spain as Europe wilts under an unusually extreme heat wave that authorities link to a rise in excess mortality.

Two huge blazes that have been consuming pine forests for six days just south of the city of Bordeaux in southwest France have forced the evacuation of some 14,000 people, including many who were set to spend their vacation at campsites.

In Spain, firefighters supported by the armed forces’ emergency brigades are trying to stamp out over 30 fires consuming forests spread across the country. Spain’s National Defense Department said that “the majority” of its fire-fighting aircraft have been deployed. Many areas are rugged, hilly terrain that makes it difficult for ground crews to access.

So far, there have been no fire-related deaths in France or Spain. In Portugal, a pilot of a firefighting plane died when his aircraft crashed on Friday.

But as temperatures remain unusually high, heat-related deaths have soared.

In Spain the second heat wave of the summer has kept highs above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many areas. According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related fatalities daily, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-14. That was compared with 25 temperature-related deaths the previous five days.

In France, the fire in La Teste-de-Buch near the Atlantic coast has forced 10,000 people to flee. The Gironde regional government said on Sunday that “the situation remains unfavorable” due to gusting winds that, combined with hot and dry conditions, have fanned more flare-ups overnight.

Members of the public observe a fire from La Teste-de-Buch in southwestern France on July 16, 2022.
GAIZKA IROZ/AFP via Getty Images

A second fire near the town of Landiras, south of a valley of Bordeaux vineyards, has forced authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week, including some 1,900 on Saturday. Authorities said that one flank has been brought under control by the dumping of white sand along a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch. Another flank, however, remains unchecked.

Some of the most worrisome blazes in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska announced a joint command that will take over coordinating the efforts to battle the fires that are active in the adjoining regions.

Firefighters have been unable to stop the advance of a fire that broke out near the city of Cáceres that is threatening the Monfragüe National Park and has kept 200 people from returning to their homes.

Another fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga has forced the evacuation of a further 2,500 people. There are more fires near the central city of Ávila, in northwest Galicia, among other areas.

Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete have also fought wildfires this week, as have Morocco and California.

The scorching temperatures have reached as far north as Britain, where its weather agency has issued its first-ever “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England may reach 40 C (104 F) for the first time.

That will still be relatively bearable compared with the 47 C (117 F) recorded in Portugal’s northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, establishing a new national record.

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