Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Forest blaze rages in Europe

LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, FRANCE (AFP) – A summer heatwave that has triggered devastating forest fires across southwest Europe showed no signs of abating yesterday, as parts of the continent readied for new temperature records this week.

Firefighters in France, Portugal, Spain and Greece are battling forest blazes that have ravaged thousands of hectares of land and killed several personnel since the start of the week.

It is the second heatwave engulfing parts of southwest Europe in weeks as scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather.

Firefighters in the coastal town of Arcachon in France’s southwestern Gironde region were fighting to control two forest blazes that have devoured more than 10,000 hectares since last Tuesday.

“It’s a Herculean job,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Chavatte from the fire and rescue service, which has 1,200 firefighters and five planes in action.

A Dash aircraft fighting a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France. PHOTO: AP

Further evacuation orders were given on Saturday for a few hundred residents, firefighter spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP.

“Several fires are still active in France,” interior minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet.
“Our firefighters are fighting the flames with remarkable courage,” he added.

Since last Tuesday, more than 14,000 people – residents and tourists combined – have been forced to decamp with seven emergency shelters set up in order to receive evacuees.

Meteo France forecast temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius in parts of southern France on Sunday, as well as up to 35 in the northwest, with new heat records expected today.

France late on Saturday placed 22 more departments, mainly down its Atlantic seaboard, on high orange alert, taking the current total to 38.

Authorities in the French Alps urged climbers bound for 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, killing 11 people, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

In Portugal, the meteorological institute forecast temperatures of up to 42 degrees Celsius with no respite before next week.

The civil defence, however, took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a July record of 47 degrees Celsius on Thursday to try to stamp out one remaining major fire in Portugal’s north.

“The risk of fires remains very high,” civil defence chief Andre Fernandes warned, although media reports said mainland fires still active were down to 11 from 20 earlier.

“This is a weekend of extreme vigilance,” he added.