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Forest fires rage in scorching southwest Europe

By AFP - Jul 16,2022 - Last updated at Jul 16,2022

A firefighter helicopter flies over a wildfire near Bustelo village in Amarante, north of Portugal, on Saturday (AFP photo)

LISBON — Southwest Europe entered a sixth day of a summer heatwave on Saturday that has triggered devastating forest fires as parts of the continent braced for new temperature records early next week.

Firefighters in France, Portugal and Spain, as well as Greece, battled forest blazes that have ravaged thousands of hectares of land and killed several firefighters since the start of the week.

“The fire is still not under control,” said Ronan Leaustic, an official in Arcachon in southwest France’s Gironde region where firefighters battled to put out two forest blazes that have devoured 9,000 hectares since Tuesday.

Meteo France said temperatures will range between 35ºC and 40ºC in the south of France on Saturday, with new heat records expected on Monday.

Authorities in the French Alps have urged climbers seeking to ascend Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rock falls caused by “exceptional climatic conditions” and “drought”.

The call comes after a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way at the start of the month, sending ice and rock hurtling down the mountain and killing 11 people, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

In Portugal, the meteorological institute forecast temperatures of up to 42ºC and thermometer readings were not expected to drop below 40ºC until next week.


‘Extreme vigilance’ 


The civil defence, however, took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a July record of 47ºC on Thursday to try to stamp out one last major fire in the north of the country.

“The risk of fires remains very high,” Civil Defence Chief Andre Fernandes warned during a midday briefing.

“This is a weekend of extreme vigilance.”

He spoke after an air tanker that had been fighting fires in northern Portugal crashed on Friday, killing its pilot.

A day earlier, two people were killed when a firefighting helicopter plummeted into the sea off Greece.

In Spain, the national meteorological agency maintained various levels of alert across the nation, warning of up to 44ºC in some regions.

Dozens of forest fires continued to rage in different parts of the country.


UK crisis meeting 


One blaze in the south caused the authorities to cordon off a section of a key highway connecting Madrid to the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

The fires have scorched thousands of hectares in the Spanish region of Extremadura.

In Greece, the civil defence rushed to douse flames raging on the Mediterranean island of Crete.

Further north, people were also bracing for more unusually warm weather.

In the United Kingdom, a crisis committee of government ministers was meeting later Saturday after the state meteorological agency issued a first-ever “red” warning for extreme heat, cautioning there is a “risk to life”.

The Met Office said that in southern England, temperatures could exceed 40ºC for the first time on Monday or Tuesday.

Mayor Sadiq Khan advised Londoners only to use public transport on those days if “absolutely necessary”. National train operators also warned passengers to avoid travel.

Some schools in southern England told parents they would stay closed during the heatwave early next week.

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