May 20, 2024


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A heat wave is burning Europe.  Issuing health warnings

A heat wave is burning Europe. Issuing health warnings

  • WMO issues air quality warnings in towns and cities
  • UK announces first red heat warning for Monday, Tuesday
  • Forest fires erupt in France, Spain and Portugal

LERIA (Portugal/London) (Reuters) – Hundreds more people were evacuated from their homes as wildfires raged in France, Spain and Portugal on Friday, while officials in Europe issued heatwave health warnings in the coming days.

More than a thousand firefighters, backed by seaplanes, have battled since Tuesday to control two fires in southwest France ignited by scorching heat, firebox conditions and high winds.

While temperatures dropped slightly in Portugal, temperatures were expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in some places, authorities said, with five districts on high alert and more than 1,000 firefighters treating 17 wildfires.

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In Spain, a new forest fire broke out in the south of the country after fires in the west last week.

More than 400 people have been evacuated from the hills of Mijas, a town popular with northern European tourists in Malaga province. Beachgoers in Torremolinos, about 20 km away, can see plumes of smoke rising above the hotels flanking the coast.

Meanwhile, the worst drought in more than 70 years has reduced Italy’s longest river, the Po, to little more than a few places, with temperatures expected to rise next week.

Officials are concerned about the effects on people’s health and healthcare systems already facing the COVID-19 pandemic as scorching heat sweeps the continent, with warnings of the worst in Britain in particular.

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The World Meteorological Organization said the heat wave will deteriorate air quality, especially in towns and cities.

“The stable and stagnant atmosphere acts as a blanket to trap atmospheric pollutants, including particulate matter,” Lorenzo Labrador, a scientific officer with the World Meteorological Organization, said at a press conference in Geneva.

This leads to deteriorating air quality and adverse health effects, particularly for those at risk.

On Thursday, Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido said the health system was facing a “particularly worrying” week due to the heat wave, and said some hospitals were overwhelmed.

From July 7 to July 13, Portugal recorded 238 excess deaths due to the heat wave, the DGS health authority said. Spain recorded 84 excess deaths attributed to extreme temperatures in the first three days of the heat wave, according to the database of the National Epidemiological Center.

UK warning

A British meteorologist issued the first “severe heat” red warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday. Read more

“The temperatures are likely to be exceptional and may break the record early next week,” said Paul Gundersen, chief meteorologist at the Met Office.

“The nights are likely to be exceptionally warm, especially in urban areas,” he said. “This is likely to lead to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure.”

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

Hannah Cloke, a climate expert at Britain’s University of Reading, said the heat wave showed that climate change exists and that adaptation is urgently needed.

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“We are seeing these problems now and they are going to get worse. We need to do something now,” she told Reuters.

“It’s hard to deal with these kinds of temperatures in the UK because we’re not used to them.”

In Portugal, Thursday’s highest temperature was recorded in the northern city of Benau at 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit), just below the record.

Raymond Ludwick, 73, a retiree from Britain now living in the Portuguese region of Leiria, was forced to leave his home with his dog Jackson when flames began to burn on a hill filled with highly flammable eucalyptus and pine trees.

When he returned a day later, his white house was untouched but the plants around it had turned to ash and the fruit trees had burned. Ludwick fears that frightening fires will occur more often in the future. “You have to be prepared,” he told Reuters.

In France’s Gironde region, 11,300 people have been evacuated since wildfires broke out around Dune du Pilat and Landiras. About 7,350 hectares (18,000 acres) of land have been burned. Authorities said the fires have not yet settled.

Elsewhere in Spain, wildfires burning in parts of Extremadura, which borders Portugal, central Castile and the Leon region, forced the evacuation of four other small villages late on Thursday and Friday.

Fire now threatens a 16th-century monastery and national park. Hundreds of people have been evacuated since the fires broke out and destroyed 7,500 hectares of forest in the two regions.

In Catalonia in the northeast, authorities have halted camping and sports activities around 275 towns and villages to prevent fire hazards and restricted agricultural work involving machinery.

Additional reporting by Benoit van Overstraten in Paris, Emma Pinedo, Elena Rodriguez and Christina Thiquiar in Madrid, Hannah Mackay in Torremolinos, William James in London, Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.