France fights huge forest fires, Great Britain records highest temperature ever

  • Wildfires burn forests in Gironde, Southwest France
  • UK temperatures exceed 40C for the first time
  • Germany, Belgium brace for possible record temperatures
  • More than 30 wildfires ravage parts of Spain

LONDON/PARIS July 19 (Reuters) – Firefighters in southwestern France battled it out on Tuesday to contain massive wildfires and Britain recorded its highest temperature ever as a heat wave rising from the south settled over western Europe.

Southern and western Germany and Belgium were also bracing for potentially record-breaking temperatures as the heat wave, which scientists attribute to climate change, moved north and east.

On Tuesday, a preliminary temperature of over 40C (104F) was recorded for the first time in Britain, the Met Office said.

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Authorities have placed Britain, which often struggles to maintain important transport services when hit by unexpected weather such as heavy snowfall or high winds, in a state of “national emergency” due to the unprecedented temperatures.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps said it would take many years to fully upgrade Britain’s infrastructure to cope with the higher temperatures after at least two airport runways showed signs of damage and some train tracks were bent.

“We have seen a significant amount of travel interruptions,” he told the BBC. “Infrastructure, much of it built from Victorian times, just wasn’t built to withstand these kinds of temperatures.”

In southwestern France, the Gironde wine region has seen the largest wildfires in more than 30 years, and authorities said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

The fires have spread across 19,300 hectares (about 75 square miles) in the countryside around Bordeaux since July 12, forcing a total of 34,000 people to evacuate their homes.

About 2,000 firefighters, supported by eight water bombers, fought the blazes.

“Despite attacks from the ground and from the air, the situation has still not stabilized,” the prefecture said in a statement, adding that there were no reports of deaths or injuries.

A study published by climate scientists in June in the journal “Environmental Research: Climate” concluded that it was highly likely that climate change was exacerbating heat waves. read more

With human-induced climate change causing droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years, according to a UN report from February 2022.

“We’re seeing heat waves more often and the heat waves are hotter than they would have been without climate change,” Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London, told Reuters.

FLAMES AND SMOKE

Although the mercury dropped to more normal summer levels in Spain and Portugal, firefighters in both countries were still fighting multiple fires.

More than 30 wildfires continued to ravage parts of Spain, with authorities paying special attention to four fires in Castile and León and Galicia.

In Losacio, in northwestern Zamora province, where two people have been killed and three seriously injured, more than 6,000 people in 32 villages have been evacuated.

Dramatic TV footage showed flames and plumes of smoke rising into the night sky near the town of Tabara in Zamora.

On Monday, a man trying to protect his town from wildfires found himself dead when the blaze engulfed his backhoe, forcing him to run for his life as he knocked flames on his clothes. read more

In Galicia, more than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the path of four fires, which damaged several buildings.

So far this year 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) have been burned in Spain, about twice the average for the past decade, official pre-heat wave data showed.

In neighboring Portugal, about 50 municipalities, mainly in the central and northern regions, still had a “maximum risk” of wildfires, according to the weather institute IPMA.

More than 1,000 firefighters fought five major wildfires, the largest of which started in the northern municipality of Murça and spread to two nearby municipalities.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from villages and an elderly couple was found dead in a burnt-out car on Monday. read more

In Greece, firefighters fought 73 fires in 24 hours, the fire service said Monday. The Civil Protection Authority warned on Tuesday of a very high fire risk across the country.

A forest fire that started in Slovenia’s Karst region was brought under control by firefighters on Tuesday, authorities said, two days after the blaze started. There were no casualties.

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Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London, Catarina Demony in Lisbon, Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Renee Maltezou in Athens, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, edited by Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones and Bernadette Baum

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