Firefighters battle wildfires from Portugal to France
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A spate of wildfires is scorching Western Europe, with firefighters battling blazes in Portugal, Spain and southern France on Wednesday amid an unusual heat wave that authorities are linking to climate change.
In Portugal, Civil Protection commander André Fernandes said that multiple fires have caused the evacuation of more than 600 people. About 120 people needed medical treatment, with two people — one civilian and one firefighter — suffering serious injuries, Fernandes said.
Water-dumping planes helped 1,300 firefighters combat the worst of the blazes in the nation’s central area, while another 1,000 worked to bring other fires under control.
The European heat wave is also sparking flames in Spain and France.
More than 800 firefighters battled two wildfires in the region outside Bordeaux in southwest France, according to the regional emergency service. The fires began Tuesday near the towns of Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch, and firefighters hadn’t been able to contain them by Wednesday morning.
About 6,500 people have been evacuated from campgrounds and villages in the forested area. The number of injuries is unclear. The two fires have destroyed more than 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres) of terrain, the emergency service said.
Images from firefighters showed flames racing through thickets of trees and grassland, fanned by strong winds, and smoke blackening the horizon.
The regional administration banned activity in forested areas at risk. Several regions in southern France are on fire alert because of hot, dry weather and high winds. Wildfires swept through the Gard region in southeast France last week.
Portugal has long experienced fatal forest fires. In 2017, wildfires killed more than 100 people. No one has died from a wildfire since then as Portugal improved its forest management and firefighting strategies.
Last year, Portugal recorded its lowest number of wildfires since 2011. But a mass of hot and dry air blown in by African winds are driving temperatures in the Iberian Peninsula beyond their usual highs.
The Atlantic country, which has been on alert of wildfires since last week, is sweltering under a spike in temperatures that is forecast to send thermometers in the central Alentejo region to 46 C (115 F) on Wednesday and Thursday. Authorities said that 96% of the country was classified at the end of June as being in either “extreme” or “severe” drought.
More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) had been consumed alone in the district of Leiria, just north of Lisbon, Mayor Goncalo Lopes told Portuguese state broadcaster RTP.
Neighboring Spain is likewise set for highs of 42 C (107.6 F) in the southern cities of Córdoba and Sevilla. Over 400 people were evacuated on Tuesday because of a wildfire in western Extremadura, a region of Spain that borders Portugal.
European Union officials issued a warning last week that climate change is behind the extremely dry and hot summer so far on the continent, urging local authorities to brace for wildfires.
Cayetano Torres, spokesman for Spain’s national weather forecaster, said that the “unusual” heat wave and lack of rainfall in recent months has created ideal circumstances for fires.
“These are perfect conditions for the propagation of fires, which when you add to that some wind, you have have guaranteed propagation,” he said.
Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain. Angela Charlton in Paris, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, contributed to this report.
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