More evacuations as Mediterranean wildfires spread

PARIS – France evacuated more than 14,000 people threatened by wildfires in the southwest, as fires also spread to Spain, Croatia and Greece.

Authorities in France’s Gironde, a popular tourist region, evacuated guards from campsites – tourists left earlier. Fires spread in the Teste-de-Buch and Landiras sectors.

In southern Spain, more than 3,200 people fled the fires in the hills of Mijas, although later some were able to return.

Portugal’s fires are contained for now. However, Portuguese authorities say at least 238 people have died from the heat in the past week.

The Mijas fires in Spain are not far from Málaga, a popular tourist area. Elsewhere in Spain, forest fires broke out in the provinces of Castilla y León and Galicia.

Ellen McCurdy, living in the Málaga region, told Reuters: “We just took a few essentials and really ran, and at this point everyone along the street was moving…there was a lot ambulances and fire trucks.”

Across the Mediterranean – from Morocco in the west to Crete in the east – thousands of firefighters and numerous water bomber planes were deployed. Since Tuesday, the whole region has been suffocated by intense heat, leaving vegetation dry.

Heat waves have become more frequent, more intense and longer lasting due to human-induced climate change.

The world has already warmed by around 1.1°C since the start of the industrial age and temperatures will continue to rise unless governments around the world drastically reduce carbon emissions.

The French meteorological service forecast temperatures of up to 41C (106F) in the south of the country on Sunday and new heat records are forecast for Monday. In Portugal, the temperature recently reached 47C.

In the UK, there is an orange warning for extreme heat, as the country braces for record temperatures on Monday and Tuesday, possibly reaching 41C in some areas.

Dr Eunice Lo, a climatologist at the University of Bristol, told the BBC that ‘rising temperatures are a signature of climate change’ and that in the UK an additional 2,000 deaths a year were attributable to waves of heat.

Public records show that since 1884, the 10 hottest years in the UK all date back to 2002, she said. Globally, “heat waves are becoming more frequent and lasting longer,” Dr Lo added. “We must stop burning fossil fuels and act now and quickly.”

Morocco has ordered more than 1,300 people from their homes and deployed more firefighters to fight wildfires in the north. The most affected area is the province of Larache.

In Crete, Greek firefighters are battling fires in the hills around Rethymno on the north coast.

Parts of southwestern Turkey and the Adriatic coast of Croatia are also struggling with wildfires. A number have erupted near the Croatian resorts of Zadar and Sibenik, but they have not forced major evacuations.

Late Saturday, France placed 22 other regional departments – mainly along its Atlantic coast – on high orange alert.

A resident of southwestern France described the wildfires as “post-apocalyptic”. The fires burned 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of land there and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin praised the “remarkable courage” of the firefighters.

“It all happened so fast – the fire was big, big, big too,” 27-year-old Manon Jacquart told the BBC. She was evacuated from the campsite where she works early Wednesday morning, and slept in a shelter near Teste-de-Buch where hundreds of other people also took shelter from danger.

“I’m just worried, I’m scared…I’m trying to be as strong as I can but I’m not okay…I want to forget about this week,” she said.

Meanwhile, mountaineers in the Alps are being urged to postpone trips to Mont Blanc due to the risk of rockfalls caused by “exceptional weather conditions”.

Heat waves put the public at increased risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and drowning, as people rush to cool off, Dr Lo said. Pets and farm animals are also vulnerable.

“Even fit and healthy people are at risk,” she said, although the most vulnerable are young children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

Extreme heat can also damage infrastructure, such as melting road tarmac and buckling railroad tracks.

In Portugal, fires have destroyed 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of land this year, mostly in the north. It is the worst fire damage since the summer of 2017, when devastating blazes killed around 100 people.

In southern Spain, holidaymakers on the beach at Torremolinos saw large plumes of smoke rising in the hills.

Planes have dropped fire retardant, while helicopters shuttle to and from the coast, collecting seawater to douse the flames.

“There are about 40 houses in our area, everyone was really nervous and stood outside or on balconies watching it,” local resident Ashley Baker said.

“Even now there are fires on top of the mountains. It’s gone away from here, I’m very relieved.”

In Italy, the government has declared a state of emergency in the parched Po Valley – the country’s longest river is a trickle in some places. —BBC

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