UPDATED: France, Spain, Portugal battle wildfires amid intense heat

Reading Time: 7 minutes

LISBON, July 17 (Reuters) – Authorities across southern Europe battled on Sunday to control huge wildfires in countries including Spain, Greece and France, where thousands of people have been evacuated in soaring temperatures.

In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as searing heat and often mountainous terrain made the job harder for firefighters.

National weather agency AEMET issued high temperature warnings for Sunday, with highs of 42 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north. It said the heatwave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.

Spain has been experiencing a nearly week-long heatwave, with highs of 45.7C (114F).

In Malaga province, wildfires raged into the night, affecting local residents near Mijas, a town popular with northern European tourists.

British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy had to make a quick escape from their home on Saturday. They were taken to a local sports centre with other evacuated people.

“It was very fast …. I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had it under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction and then we were told to go. So we have left a lot of stuff behind,” William, 68, told Reuters.

“We just grabbed a few essentials and just ran and by that stage everybody along the street was on the move,” Ellen said.

Mari Carmen Molina, a local councillor in Alhaurin, one of the evacuated towns, said she was worried homes could be destroyed.

“It’s terrible. It’s a very difficult situation”, she said.

In France, wildfires had now spread over 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the southwestern region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people have been evacuated, the regional authorities said on Sunday afternoon.

More than 1,200 firefighters were trying to control the blazes, the authorities said in a statement.


In Portugal, firefighters were trying to control five forest and rural fires in the center and north of the country, the largest near the northern city of Chaves.

Portugal’s Health Ministry said late on Saturday that in the last seven days 659 people died due to the heatwave, most of them elderly. It said the weekly peak of 440 deaths was on Thursday, when temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in several regions and 47C (117F) at a meteorological station in the district of Vizeu in the centre of the country.

The country is grappling with extreme drought – mainland Portugal already had 96% of its territory in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, before the recent heatwave, according to data from national meteorological institute IPMA.

Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes urged people to take care not to ignite new fires in such bone-dry conditions.

In Greece, the fire brigade said on Saturday 71 blazes broke out within 24 hours. On Sunday, more than 150 firefighters were tackling a fire burning forest and farm land since Friday in Rethymno on the island of Crete. The flames were fuelled by strong winds. Local fire brigade officials said on Sunday it had been partially contained.

In Britain, the national weather forecaster has issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday, predicting temperatures could reach 40C (104F), topping the previous record of 38.7C (102F) in 2019.

(Reporting by Layli Foroudi, Sergio Goncalves, Jessica Jones, Renee Maltezou, Jon Nazca and Mariano ValladolidWriting by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances KerryEditing by Mark Potter and Philippa Fletcher)

EARLIER – Wildfires rage in France and Spain as heatwaves sweep Europe

PARIS/LISBON, July 16 (Reuters) – Wildfires raged in southwestern France and Spain on Saturday, forcing thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes as blistering summer temperatures put authorities on alert in parts of Europe.

More than 12,200 people had been evacuated from France’s Gironde region by Saturday morning as more than 1,000 firefighters battled to bring the flames under control, regional authorities said in a statement. 

“We have a fire that will continue to spread as long as it is not stabilised,” Vincent Ferrier, deputy prefect for Langon in Gironde, told a news conference.

Wildfires have torn through France in recent weeks, as well as in other European countries including Portugal and Spain, and nearly 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land was on fire in the Gironde region on Saturday, up from 7,300 hectares on Friday.

In neighbouring Spain, firefighters were battling a series of blazes on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures which reached up to 45.7 degrees Celsius (114 Fahrenheit).

The nearly week-long heatwave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.

More than 3,000 people have now been evacuated from homes due to a large wildfire near Mijas, a town in the province of Malaga that is popular with northern European tourists, the region’s emergency services said in a tweet early on Saturday.

Many were taken to shelter in a provincial sports centre.

“The police drove up and down the road with their sirens on and everyone was told to leave. Just leave. No instructions where to go,” said British pensioner John Pretty, 83.

“It’s frightening … because you don’t know what’s happening,” said Belgian resident Jean-Marie Vandelanotte, 68.

Elsewhere in Spain, fires burned in parts of the Extremadura region, close to the Portuguese border, where members of Spain’s Military Emergency Unit were deployed to help tackle the flames, and in the central Castille and Leon region.

There was some respite for firefighters in Portugal, where temperatures dropped across most of the country on Saturday after reaching about 40 C (104 F) in recent days.

“We have had big fires and we don’t want them to be reactivated again … We will keep extreme vigilance this weekend,” Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes told reporters.

Firefighters fight the flames near a house threatened by a fire in the Ludo area, Faro, Algarve, south of Portugal. EPA-EFE/DUARTE DRAGO

A total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) was ravaged by wildfires from the start of the year until mid-June, more than triple the area razed by fires in the same period last year, data from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests showed.

An area equivalent to almost two-thirds of that has burned during fires in the last week.

Portugal’s Health Ministry said 238 people had died as a result of the heatwave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people with underlying conditions.

In Britain, the national weather forecaster has issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.

With possibly record-breaking temperatures expected, the government’s emergency response committee was due to meet later on Saturday.

The highest recorded temperature in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.

In northern Morocco, several villages had to be evacuated as fires swept through the Larache, Ouezzane, Taza and Tetouan provinces. One village was totally destroyed in the Ksar El Kebir area and at least one person died in a blaze.

who deal with the effects on a daily basis – and these effects aren’t in 2030, they’re right now,” said Grégory Allione.

Once you're here...

%d bloggers like this: