France battles massive wildfires, Britain records highest temperature ever

  • Forest fires burn forests in the Gironde, southwest France
  • UK temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius for the first time
  • Germany and Belgium brace for possible record temperatures
  • More than 30 wildfires destroy parts of Spain

LONDON/PARIS, July 19 (Reuters) – Firefighters in southwest France struggled on Tuesday to contain massive bushfires and Britain set its highest temperature ever as a heat wave surged from the south in western Europe.

Southern and western Germany and Belgium also braced for potentially record-breaking temperatures as a heat wave, which scientists attribute to climate change, rose to the north and east.

The Met Office said a temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) was temporarily recorded on Tuesday for the first time ever in Britain.

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The authorities have put Britain, which often struggles to maintain key transport services when hit by unexpected weather such as heavy snow or high winds, on a “national emergency” due to unprecedented temperatures.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would take many years to fully modernize Britain’s infrastructure to keep up with soaring temperatures, after at least two of the airport’s runways showed signs of damage and some train tracks disintegrating.

“We’ve seen a huge amount of disruption in travel,” he told the BBC. “Infrastructure, much of it built from the Victorian era, was not built to withstand these kinds of temperatures.”

In southwest France, the Gironde grape-growing region experienced its biggest bushfire in more than 30 years, and authorities said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

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The fires have spread over 19,300 hectares (about 75 square miles) in rural areas around Bordeaux since July 12, forcing 34,000 people to evacuate their homes.

About 2,000 firefighters, backed by eight hydrofoil aircraft, are battling the flames.

“Despite the ground and air attacks, the situation has not stabilized yet,” the state’s governorate said in a statement, adding that there were no reports of deaths or injuries.

A study published in June by climate scientists in the journal “Environmental Research: Climate” concluded that it is highly likely that climate change has made heat waves worse. Read more

With human-caused climate change leading to drought, the number of severe wildfires is expected to increase by 30% within 28 years, according to a February 2022 United Nations report.

“We are seeing more frequent heat waves and hotter heat waves than they would have been without climate change,” Frederic Otto, senior lecturer in climate sciences at Imperial College London, told Reuters.

flame and smoke

Although the mercury retreated back toward normal summer levels in Spain and Portugal, firefighters in both countries were still battling multiple fires.

More than 30 fires continued to devastate parts of Spain, with authorities paying special attention to four fires in Castile, Leon and Galicia.

In Lusacio, in the northwestern province of Zamora, where two people were killed and three seriously injured, more than 6,000 people were evacuated in 32 villages.

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Dramatic television footage showed flames and plumes of smoke rising into the night sky near the town of Tabara in Zamora.

On Monday, a man trying to protect his town from wildfires died when a fire engulfed his excavator, forcing him to run with his life as he put out the flames on his clothes. Read more

In Galicia, more than 1,500 people were evacuated from the path of four fires that destroyed many buildings.

Official data before the heat wave showed that 70 thousand hectares (173 thousand acres) had burned so far this year in Spain, about double the average of the past decade.

In neighboring Portugal, about 50 municipalities, mainly in the central and northern regions, still face “extreme risk” from wildfires, according to the IPMA weather institute.

More than 1,000 firefighters were battling five major bushfires, the largest of which started in the northern municipality of Mursa and spread to two nearby municipalities.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from villages and an elderly couple was found dead on Monday inside a burning car. Read more

In Greece, firefighters treated 73 fires within 24 hours, the fire brigade said Monday. The Civil Protection Authority warned of the dangers of fires breaking out across the country on Tuesday.

Slovenian authorities said a forest fire that started in the Karst region of Slovenia contained firefighters on Tuesday, two days after the blaze broke out. There were no injuries.

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Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Jomocian in London, Catarina Damon in Lisbon, Dominic Vidalon in Paris, Rene Maltezo in Athens, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Nick McVeigh, Gareth Jones and Bernadette Baum

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Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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