Forest fires rage in scorching southwest Europe

Published July 17, 2022
A firefighter tackles a forest fire around the village of Eiriz in Baiao, north of Portugal, on July 15. — AFP
A firefighter tackles a forest fire around the village of Eiriz in Baiao, north of Portugal, on July 15. — AFP

LISBON: Southwest Eur­o­pe entered a sixth day of a summer heatwave on Saturday that has triggered devastating forest fires as parts of the continent braced for new temperature records early next week.

Firefighters in France, Portugal and Spain, as well as Greece, battled forest blazes that have ravaged thousands of hectares of land and killed several firefighters since the start of the week.

“The fire is still not under control,” said Ronan Lea­ustic, an official in Arcachon in southwest France’s Gironde region where firefighters battled to put out two forest blazes that have devoured 9,000 hectares (22,200 acres) since Tuesday.

Meteo France said temperatures will range between 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and 40C in the south of France on Saturday, with new heat records expected on Monday.

Authorities in the French Alps have urged climbers seeking to ascend 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, sending ice and rock hurtling down the mountain and killing 11 people, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

In Portugal, the meteorological institute forecast temperatures of up to 42C and thermometer readings were not expected to drop below 40C until next week.

The civil defence, however, took advantage of a slight drop in temperatures after a July record of 47C on Thursday to try to stamp out one last major fire in the north of the country.

“The risk of fires remains very high,” civil defence chief Andre Fernandes warned during a midday briefing.

“This is a weekend of extreme vigilance.” He spoke after an air tanker that had been fighting fires in northern Portugal crashed on Friday, killing its pilot.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2022

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