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US heatwave soars as California wildfire rages

Lesbos wildfire forces hundreds to evacuate from tourist resort

By AFP - Jul 24,2022 - Last updated at Jul 24,2022

A home burns as the Oak Fire moves through the area on Saturday near Mariposa, California (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON/ ATHENS — Tens of millions of Americans already baking in a scorching heatwave braced on Saturday for record-setting temperatures to climb, while a major fire ravaged part of California.

The country's central and northeast regions face the brunt of the extreme temperatures, which are not expected to peak until Sunday at the earliest and have sent public health officials scrambling.

More than a dozen states are under a heat advisory, with central US metropolitan areas such as Dallas and Oklahoma City expected to reach highs of over 38ºC for at least the next five days.

A heat emergency is, meanwhile, in effect for cities up and down the northeast coast, from Boston to Philadelphia to Washington.

Not even the usually cool Pacific Northwest will escape the far-reaching heat, with the region expected to face several days in the 90s next week.

The high temperatures, which demonstrate the threat of global warming, have already caused an uptick in emergency calls for heat-related illness.

Cities have, meanwhile, been forced to open cooling stations and increase outreach to at-risk communities such as the homeless and those without access to air conditioning.

"This is really one of the things that we recognise in Oklahoma, heat is the number one weather-related killer across the United States. It far surpasses any other" nature-related cause of death, Joseph Kralicek, director of the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency, told CNN.

The nation's capital was predicted to reach temperatures at or near 38ºC on Saturday, with New York not far behind.

“Look for daytime max temps to eclipse the century mark in the Central Plains and record breaking high temps from the Central Plains to the Northeast today,” the National Weather Service said in a forecast.

“Sunday grows even hotter in the northeast,” it said.

The sweltering heat has increased the risk of blazes, such as the major Oak Fire, which broke out Friday in California near Yosemite National Park where giant sequoias have already been threatened by fire in recent days.

Spread over more than 2,650 hectares, the Oak Fire has already destroyed ten properties and damaged five others. As of midday Saturday, it was zero per cent contained, according to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge, hot and fast-moving wildfires, driven by years of drought and a warming climate.

Severe thunderstorms are, meanwhile, expected in the Midwest Saturday, with the potential for damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes, the NWS said.

Various regions of the globe have been hit by extreme heatwaves in recent months, such as Western Europe in July and India in March to April, incidents that scientists say are an unmistakable sign of climate change.

Meanwhile in Europe, hundreds of tourists and residents were evacuated on Saturday from a popular resort on the Greek island of Lesbos as a wildfire destroyed homes in the beachside village of Vatera.

The fires sent up thick clouds of smoke blotting out the sun as they drifted over the sea as blazes raged metres away from homes, forcing people to flee while others tried to protect their houses from the embers.

Greece was facing the first day of a heatwave on Saturday that is expected to last 10 days. Temperatures were set to rise to 42ºC in some regions, sparking concerns over more wildfires.

The fire on Lesbos island broke out at 10:00 local time (0700 GMT) on Saturday and is blazing on two fronts, heading towards the Vrisa village and another inside Vatera.

Police said 450 people were evacuated from two hotels and 92 houses in Vatera.

The Greek coast guard said earlier it evacuated nine people including five foreigners from a beach in Vatera.

Firefighters deployed nine firefighting planes and one helicopter to fight the surging blaze.

A heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103,000 hectares  and claimed three lives in Greece.

Fires in parts of France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land so far this year than in all of 2021, some 517,881 hectares, or the equivalent area of Trinidad and Tobago.

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