Forest fires ravage Western Europe, with hundreds reported killed by heat wave

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Wildfires raged in southwestern France, Spain and Portugal on Saturday, forcing thousands to leave their homes as the heat wave swept through Western Europe continued.

In a statement, regional authorities said 14,000 people were evacuated on Saturday afternoon from the French Gironde region, as more than 1,200 firefighters struggled to control the flames.

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

Fierce fires have ravaged the forest in the Bordeaux region of France for five straight days, while wildfires in Portugal have injured more than 160 people.

A pilot of a firefighting plane was killed Friday in a crash during an operation in northeastern Portugal. This was the first fire to fall this year in Portugal.

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The heat wave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to figures from the Carlos III Institute of Health.

The fire season hit parts of Europe earlier than expected due to an unusually dry hot spring that dried out the soil.

Firefighters backed by floodwaters battle fires in southern France and in Casas de Mirafate in the Extremadura region of Spain. Greece sent firefighting equipment to help.

National Republican Guard firefighters extinguish a forest fire in the village of Rebolo, near Anzio in central Portugal, Thursday, July 14, 2022.
(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

In the latest weather warning, 38 of France’s 96 provinces were placed on an “orange” alert, with residents urged to be vigilant. The heatwave in western France is expected to peak on Monday, with temperatures rising above 40C (104F).

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The Oyo family of 11 woke up in the middle of the night by strangely telling them that their house was on fire.

And in neighboring Spain, firefighters battled a string of fires on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures of 45.7 Celsius (114 Fahrenheit).

A similar scene is taking place in Portugal, where more than 3,000 firefighters have fought alongside desperate citizens to save their homes from the many wildfires that have broken out across the country,

There was some relief for firefighters in Portugal, with temperatures dropping across much of the country on Saturday after hitting around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in recent days.

“We are seeing big fires and we don’t want to reactivate them again,” Andre Fernandez, head of the Emergency and Civil Protection Authority, told reporters. “We will remain very vigilant this weekend.”

Bushfires destroyed a total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) from the start of the year through mid-June, more than three times the area destroyed by fires in the same period last year, data from the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests showed.

An area roughly two-thirds of that area burned during last week’s fires.

The Portuguese Ministry of Health said that 238 people died as a result of the heat wave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people suffering from chronic diseases.

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Across the Mediterranean from Europe, Moroccan fires have engulfed more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the northern regions of Larache, Ouazzane, Taza and Tetouan, killing at least one person, local authorities said.

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More than 1,000 homes were evacuated from their villages and water transport planes helped put out most of the fires by Friday night, although firefighters still struggled to put out three hot spots near Larache.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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