Southern Europe continues roasting as forest fires blaze

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 Much of Southern Europe remained in the grasp of sweltering heat on Friday, as forest fires continued to blaze in a number of spots.

For large parts of Greece, for example, meteorologists are expecting a long heatwave that will last until the beginning of August.

The mercury in Athens had already climbed to 30 degrees Celsius early on Friday morning. At the weekend and in the days thereafter, temperatures are expected to reach around 40 degrees, according to the Office of Meteorology. The civil defence force warned that the danger of fire was extremely high.

Even at night, temperatures in many places do not fall below 30 degrees, making it difficult for residents and holidaymakers to recover from the heat.

Meteorologists do not expect temperatures to drop to the normal seasonal highs of around 35 degrees for the next 10 days. The Aegean islands such as Skopelos, Mykonos, Santorini and Syros as well as the mountainous regions of the mainland have been spared from the worst of the heatwave because of sea breezes.

New figures from Italy also show how severe the consequences of the drought are. The Italian fire brigade said on Friday it had been called out much more often for forest and bush fires so far this summer than last year.

Between June 15 and July 21, more than 32,900 operations were counted nationwide, about 4,000 more than in the same period last year, the fire brigade said. So far, firefighters intervened most frequently on the island of Sicily and in the Puglia region.

A police officer, who is also a civil defence employee, died on Thursday in the municipality of Prepotto on the Italian-Slovenian border during firefighting operations.

Deaths and injuries were reported in Europe this week as firefighters battled blazes in Greece, Portugal, France and Italy, amid dry, hot conditions.

In recent days, Italy has also seen fires in the regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Tuscany and South Tyrol.

Italy has been experiencing extreme drought for months, which means that flames can spread rapidly on the dry ground. Often, negligence or arson are behind the fires. In addition, the wind often gives the flames a boost.

On the other side of the Alpine mountains, in Germany, a forest fire broke out at the top of a mountain a few kilometres from world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle, police said on Friday.

Emergency services spent the previous evening battling the blaze and were still working to extinguish embers on Friday, police said.

Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, said on Friday that Portugal and Spain had seen more than 1,700 excess deaths this year due to the ongoing heatwave.

“Climate change is not new. Its consequences, however, are mounting season after season, year after year, with disastrous outcomes,” said Kluge.

Extreme temperatures can exacerbate existing health conditions, he warned, while heatstroke and hyperthermia – or abnormally high body temperature – can also both contribute to death.

At least in Germany, people were in for some respite from the heat on Friday and Saturday. But temperatures should start climbing again on Sunday.

According the German Weather Service (DWD), it could reach up to 33 degrees on Sunday, and up to 36 degrees on Monday.

dpa / Reuters Connect

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