France was on high alert yesterday as the peak of a punishing heat wave gripped the nation, while wildfires raging in parts of southwest Europe showed no sign of abating.
Forecasters have put 15 French departments on the highest state of alert for extreme temperatures as neighboring Britain was poised to set new heat records this week.
The heat wave is the second to engulf parts of southwest Europe in weeks, and blazes burning in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land, and forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee.
Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather such as heat waves and droughts.
In France’s Landes forest, in the southwest Aquitaine region, temperatures “will be above 42 degrees Celsius,” forecaster Olivier Proust said.
Brittany, which until recently had escaped the worst of the heat, could register temperatures as high as 40°C, said experts, which would be a record for the region.
In the southwestern Gironde region, firefighters over the weekend continued to fight to control forest blazes that have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares since Tuesday last week.
Meanwhile, Spanish authorities reported about 20 wildfires still raging out of control in different parts of the nation from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where blazes have destroyed about 4,500 hectares of land.
The fires have already killed several civilians and emergency personnel since last week, most recently a firefighter who died late on Sunday while battling a blaze in northwestern Spain.
The wildfires in France forced more than 16,000 people — residents and tourists — to decamp. Seven emergency shelters had been set up for evacuees.
The French Ministry of the Interior announced that it would send an extra three firefighting planes, 200 firefighters and more trucks.
“In some southwestern areas, it will be a heat apocalypse,” meteorologist Francois Gourand said.
The chapel of a historic hospital in the southeastern city of Lyon, Grand Hotel Dieu, offered refuge to tourists on Sunday, including Jean-Marc, 51, who was visiting from Alsace.
“We came back to admire the place, but we can’t leave, it’s too hot outside. We say a prayer before the fire,” he said.
French cyclist Mikael Cherel, taking part in the Tour de France’s 15th stage between Rodez and Carcassonne in southern France on Sunday, described “very, very difficult conditions.”
“I’ve never known such a hot day on a bike. It really was no picnic,” Cherel said.
In Spain, firefighters managed to stabilize a wildfire that ravaged 2,000 hectares of woods and bush in the southern region of Andalusia, regional leader Juan Manuel Moreno said.
The blaze started on Friday in the Mijas mountain range inland from the southern coastal city of Malaga and it spurred the evacuation of about 3,000 people.
About 2,000 people have since returned home and now that the blaze has stabilized, Moreno said the remaining evacuees could do the same.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was yesterday due to visit the hard-hit eastern region of Extremadura where various fires have been raging for days.
In Portugal, almost the entire nation remained on high alert for wildfires, despite a slight drop in temperatures, after hitting 47°C — a record for the month of July — on Thursday last week.
Only one major fire was burning on Sunday in the north.
The fires have killed two, injured about 60 people, and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.
In the UK, the weather office issued a first-ever “red” warning for extreme heat, cautioning there was a “risk to life.”
The Met Office said temperatures in southern England yesterday or today could exceed 40°C for the first time, leading some schools to say they would stay closed this week.
The mercury is set to reach 38°C in parts of the Netherlands today.
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