Firefighters battled wildfires out of control in Spain and France, including wildfires that reached two popular Atlantic beaches on Sunday, as Europe shriveled under an unusually intense heat wave..
So far, no fire-related deaths have been recorded in France or Spain, but authorities in Madrid have blamed the high temperatures on hundreds of deaths. Two massive fires, which devoured pine forests for six days in southwestern France, forced the evacuation of about 16,200 people.
In the dramatic photos posted online, a wall of black smoke can be seen rolling toward the Atlantic along the Bordeaux coast that was bestowed upon by surfers from all over the world. Flames darted through trees bordering a wide sandy beach, while planes flew low to suck water from the ocean. Elsewhere, smoke covered the horizon over a mass of lonely trees in photos shared by French firefighters.
In Spain, firefighters backed by military brigades tried to put out more than 30 forest fires scattered across the country. Spain’s Ministry of National Defense said “the majority” of its firefighting aircraft have been deployed to reach the fires, many of which are located in rugged terrain and hills that are difficult for ground crews to reach.
Fire season hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after a hot dry spring that the European Union blamed on climate change. Some countries are also experiencing extended droughts, while many are blazing in heat waves.
In Spain’s second heat wave in the summer, many areas repeatedly saw peaks of 43 °C (109 °F). According to the Spanish Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related deaths daily, 360 deaths are attributed to the warming from July 10 to 15. This compares with 27 temperature-related deaths in the previous six days.
Almost all of Spain was on alert for high temperatures for another day on Sunday, while there were heatwave warnings for about half of France, where scorching temperatures are expected to rise on Monday. The French government intensified its efforts to protect people in nursing homes, the homeless and other vulnerable populations after a severe heat wave and poor planning that killed nearly 15,000 people in 2003, especially among the elderly.
The fire that broke out in La Teste-de-Buch has forced more than 10,000 people to flee at a time when many usually flock to the nearby Atlantic Coast region for vacation. French authorities have closed several sites to the public along this coast due to the fire, including the beaches of La Lagoon and Petit Nice that the fire reached on Sunday, and the longest sand dunes in Europe, the dunes du Pilate.
The Gironde regional government said Sunday afternoon that “the situation is still very unfavorable” due to high winds that helped fuel further unrest overnight.
A second fire near the town of Landeras forced the evacuation of 4,100 people this week. Authorities said one of the wings was taken over by dumping white sand over a two-kilometre (1.2 mi) stretch. The other wing, however, remains unchecked.
People forced to flee shared their concerns about their abandoned homes with local media, and local officials organized special trips for some to bring pets they left behind in a hurry to reach safety.
In all, more than 100 square kilometers (40 square miles) of land burned in the two fires.
Emergency officials warned that high temperatures and winds on Sunday and Monday would complicate efforts to stop the fires from spreading further.
“We have to remain very careful and humble, because today is going to be very hot. We don’t have a favorable weather window,” regional fire official Eric Florensan said Sunday on Radio France Bleu.
Some of the most worrisome fires in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura, Castilla and Leon. Images of plumes of dark smoke billowing over wooded hills roasted in the sun have become popular in many sparsely populated rural areas.
Dry conditions on the Iberian Peninsula have made it particularly vulnerable to forest fires. The Ministry of National Security said that since last October, Spain has accumulated 25% less rain than is considered normal – and some areas have received up to 75% less than normal.
While some of the fires were caused by lightning and others as a result of human negligence, the fire that broke out in a nature reserve in Extremadura called La Garganta de los Inferos, or “Hell’s Throat,” was suspected as a result, regional authorities said.
Firefighters were unable to stop the progress of the blaze that broke out near the city of Cáceres and which threatens Monfrago National Park and prevented 200 people from returning to their homes. Another fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga forced the evacuation of another 2,500 people.
The office of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he will travel to Extremadura on Monday to visit some of the hardest-hit areas.
Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete also battled wildfires this week, as well as Morocco and California. Italy is in the midst of an early summer heat wave, along with the worst drought in its north in 70 years – conditions linked to a recent disaster, when a huge massif of the Marmolada glacier occurred It exploded, killing many hikers.
Scorching temperatures reached northern Europe. An annual four-day walking event in the Dutch city of Nijmegen announced Sunday that it will cancel the first day, scheduled for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to peak at around 39°C (102°F).
The UK Met Office has issued its first ever ‘red alert’ From the sweltering heat on Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England reach 40°C (104°F) for the first time.
College of Paramedics CEO Tracy Nichols warned Sunday that “extreme heat” could “ultimately end with people dying.”
Wilson reports from Barcelona, Spain. Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed from The Hague, Netherlands.
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