Forest fires erupt in France and Spain as heat waves rage in Europe

  • Forest fires in southwestern France, Spain
  • Health officials have reported hundreds of heat-related deaths
  • UK emergency committee meeting after weather warning

PARIS/LISBONA (Reuters) – Wildfires raged in southwest France and Spain on Saturday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate as sweltering summer temperatures soared and put authorities on alert in parts of Europe.

More than 12,200 people had been evacuated from France’s Gironde region by Saturday morning, regional authorities said in a statement, as more than 1,000 firefighters struggled to control the flames. Read more

“We have a fire that will continue to spread as long as it is not stabilised,” Vincent Ferrier, deputy governor of Langon in Gironde, told a news conference.

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Wildfires have swept France in recent weeks, as well as in other European countries including Portugal and Spain, burning nearly 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land in the Gironde region on Saturday, up from 7,300 hectares on Friday.

And in neighboring Spain, firefighters battled a string of fires on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures of 45.7 Celsius (114 Fahrenheit).

The nearly week-long heatwave has killed 360 people due to the heat, according to figures from the Carlos III Institute of Health.

More than 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to a large forest fire near Mijas, a town in Malaga province popular with Northern European tourists, the district emergency services said in a tweet early Saturday.

Many of them were transferred to a regional sports center.

“Police moved up and down the road with sirens and everyone told to leave. Just leave. There are no instructions where to go,” said 83-year-old British pensioner John Pretty.

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“It’s scary…because you don’t know what’s going on,” said Belgian resident Jean-Marie Vandelanenot, 68.

Elsewhere in Spain, thick black plumes of smoke rose into the air near Casas de Mirafti in the Extremadura region as helicopters dumped water on flames that burned 3,000 hectares, forcing two villages to evacuate and threatening to reach Montfrag National Park.

Fires also flared in the central region of Castile and Leon and in Galicia in the north.

There was some relief for firefighters in Portugal, with temperatures dropping across much of the country on Saturday after hitting around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in recent days.

“We are seeing big fires and we don’t want to reactivate them again,” Andre Fernandez, head of the Emergency and Civil Protection Authority, told reporters. “We will remain very vigilant this weekend.”

Bushfires destroyed a total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) from the start of the year through mid-June, more than three times the area destroyed by fires in the same period last year, data from the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests showed.

An area roughly two-thirds of that area burned during last week’s fires.

The Portuguese Ministry of Health said that 238 people died as a result of the heat wave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people suffering from chronic diseases.

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Morocco is burning

Across the Mediterranean from Europe, Moroccan fires have engulfed more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the northern regions of Larache, Ouazzane, Taza and Tetouan, killing at least one person, local authorities said.

More than 1,000 homes were evacuated from their villages and water transport planes helped put out most of the fires by Friday night, although firefighters still struggled to put out three hot spots near Larache.

In Britain, the national meteorologist issued the first “severe heat” red warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.

With record temperatures expected, the government’s emergency response committee is scheduled to meet later on Saturday.

The highest temperature ever recorded in Britain was 38.7 °C (101.7 °F), recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.

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Additional reporting by Lily Farodi in Paris, Sergio Gonclaves in Lisbon, Mariano Valladolid, John Nazca in Malaga, Angus McDowall, Jessica Jones and Michael Holden in London.

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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