Record Heatwave Has Caused Massive Wildfires All Across Europe - Is 'Climate Change' To Blame?

By Pamela Glass | Thursday, 21 July 2022 05:15
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Firefighters battled wildfires raging out of command in France and Spain on Sunday as Europe wilted under an unusually intense heat wave that authorities in Madrid accused of hundreds of deaths.

Two huge blazes, which have consumed pine forests for six days in southwestern France, has caused the evacuation of roughly 14,000 people. Water-dropping planes zig-zagged the area near Bordeaux as flames lapped at the edge of a farm field and smoke blanketed the skyline above a mass of singed trees, in photos shared by firefighters.

In Spain, firefighters backed by military brigades attempted to stamp out more than 30 fires consuming forests across the nation. Spain's National Defense Department said that "the majority" of its fire-fighting aircraft have been deployed to reach the blazes, many of which are in rugged, hilly terrain that is hard for ground crews to access.

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier this year after a dry, hot spring that the European Union has attributed to climate change. Some nations are undergoing extended droughts, while many are sweltering in heat waves.

Thus far, there have been no fire-related deaths in France or Spain. In Portugal, a pilot of a firefighting plane died when his aircraft crashed on Friday.

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Yet as temperatures stayed unusually high, heat-related deaths soared. In Spain's second summer heat wave, many regions have repeatedly seen peaks of 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit). According to Spain's Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related fatalities daily, 360 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10 to 15. That was compared with 27 temperature-related deaths the previous six days.

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The death of a street cleaner after he mourned heat stroke while working led Madrid's town hall to give it's street cleaners the option to work in the evenings.

Nearly all of Spain was under alert for high temperatures for another day Sunday. At the same time, there were heat wave warnings for roughly half of France, where scorching temperatures were predicted to climb higher on Monday. After a vicious heat wave, the French government has stepped up efforts to defend people in nursing homes, the homeless, and other vulnerable populations. Poor planning led to almost 15,000 deaths in 2003, especially among the elderly.

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In the meantime, the fire in La Teste-de-Buch has forced 10,000 people to flee when many flock to the nearby Atlantic coast area for vacation. And authorities shut down access to Europe's tallest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat.

The Gironde regional government announced Sunday afternoon that "the situation remains very unfavorable" due to gusting winds that helped fan more flare-ups overnight.

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"The emergency services are prioritizing protecting the population, preserving sensitive areas, and limiting the progression of the fire," authorities announced, without addressing when they might be able to bring it under control.

A second fire near the town of Landiras has caused authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week. Authorities announced that one flank has been brought under management by the dumping of white sand along a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch. Another flank, however, is still unchecked.

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People who were forced to flee shared worries about their abandoned houses with local media, and local officials organized special trips for some to fetch pets they had left behind in the rush to get to safety.

Overall, over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles) of land have burned in the two fires.

Emergency officials warned that high temperatures and winds on Sunday and Monday would complicate attempts to prevent the fires from spreading further.

"We have to stay very prudent and very humble, because the day will be very hot. We have no favorable weather window," regional fire official Eric Florensan announced Sunday on radio France-Bleu. Some of the most worrisome blazes in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. Images of plumes of dark smoke rising above wooded hills that have been baked under the sun have become common in several scarcely populated rural areas.

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