LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France (AP) — A heatwave swept across Europe headed north to Britain and sparked violent wildfires in Spain and France on Monday, prompting the evacuation of thousands and emergency mobilizations Water bombers and firefighters to fight the flames that spread through the tinder – dry forest.
Two people have been killed in Spain’s fires, and the country’s prime minister has linked to global warnings that “climate change is killing people”.
The death toll is the highest number of hundreds of heat-related deaths reported in the Iberian Peninsula, as heat has swept across the continent in recent days and sparked wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans. Some regions, including northern Italy, are also experiencing prolonged drought. Climate change has made such life-threatening extreme events less rare – even places like the UK are seeing heatwaves, which could see record-breaking temperatures.
The heat in the UK this week is expected to be so severe that train operators have warned it could twist the tracks and some schools have set up wading pools to help cool children.
In France, heat records were broken and swirling hot winds complicated firefighting efforts in the country’s southwest.
“The fire was really exploding,” said regional fire chief Marc Vermeulen, as he described tree trunks shattering as the fire engulfed them, sending burning embers into the air and spreading the fire further.
“We are facing an extreme and extraordinary situation,” he said.
Authorities evacuated more towns, moving another 14,900 people from areas where they risked finding themselves in the fire’s path and thick smoke. In total, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and summer resorts in the Gironde since the wildfires began on July 12.
Three other planes were sent to six other planes already fighting fires, scooping seawater into their tanks and repeatedly passing through the thick smoke, the interior ministry said late on Sunday.
More than 200 reinforcements went to join an army of 1,500 firefighters fighting day and night to contain the fires in the Gironde, where they are approaching precious vineyards, on the coast of Arcachon, famous for its oysters and beaches Smoke billows from the basin.
Meanwhile, Spain reported its second death in two days as it battled its own fires. The body of a 69-year-old shepherd was found on Monday in the same hilly area where a 62-year-old firefighter died a day earlier when he was caught in a blaze in northwestern Zamora province. More than 30 forest fires have raged across Spain, forcing the evacuation of thousands and darkening 220 square kilometers (85 square miles) of forest and underbrush.
Passengers travelling by train through Zamora got a close look at a horrific fire as their trains stopped in the countryside. Video of the unscheduled – and disturbing – stop shows about a dozen passengers on a tram becoming panic-stricken as they look out of their windows at the flames on either side of the track.
Climate scientists say heatwaves are stronger, more frequent and longer-lasting because of climate change — which, combined with drought, makes wildfires harder to fight. Climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, they said.
“Climate change will kill,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, where firefighters put out three blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said her country was “really under fire” at climate change talks in Berlin.
She warned that there are “dire prospects for the next few days” – with only moderate cooling overnight after temperatures above 40C (104F) for more than 10 days.
Nearly 600 people have been reported to have died from the heat in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this month.
Spain’s heatwave is expected to ease on Tuesday, but the respite will be short-lived as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, especially in the dry western part of Extremadura.
In the UK, officials issued the first-ever extreme heat warning, while the Meteorological Service forecast a record high of 38.7 C (101.7 F) set in 2019 could be broken.
“Forty-one is not impossible,” said Penelope Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office. “We even have some 43 in the model, but we hope it’s not that high.”
France’s often temperate Brittany region was sweltering, with the port of Brest reaching a record 35.8 degrees Celsius (96.4 degrees Fahrenheit), surpassing the highest temperature since July 1949, the French weather service Meteo-France said. 35.2 degrees Celsius.
The Balkans are expected to experience the worst heat later in the week, but there are already sporadic wildfires.
Earlier on Monday, Slovenian authorities said firefighters had managed to bring a blaze under control. After battling its own wildfires off the Adriatic coast last week, Croatia sent a sprinkler plane to help put out the blazes. A fire in Sibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes but was later put out.
In Portugal, much cooler weather on Monday helped firefighters make progress in putting out the blaze. More than 600 firefighters are involved in four blazes in northern Portugal.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq. Associated Press reporters Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.
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