June 16, 2024 6:49 am

Europe heatwave: Thousands escape wildfires in France, Spain and Greece

More than 11,000 people have been forced to leave France’s south-western Gironde region in the past few days.

Dozens of fires are burning in Portugal and Spain where temperatures have surged above 40C.

At least 281 deaths in both countries were linked to the heat and several towns in western Spain were evacuated.

Portuguese villagers were also told to flee when flames crossed the border from Spain.

The head of France’s firefighters’ federation has warned of the impact global warming is having on civil protection. “It’s firefighters, civil security who deal with the effects on a daily basis – and these effects aren’t in 2030, they’re right now,” said Grégory Allione.

Heatwaves have become more frequent, more intense, and last longer because of human-induced climate change. The world has already warmed by about 1.1C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.

Firefighters in Spain fought to protect the town of Monsagro as fires erupted further south in the Monfragüe national park, home to rare species of birds. The main N-5 route in Cáceres just east of the park was cut off when a forest fire reached the road.

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In Portugal, 47C was recorded at Pinhão in the north on Thursday, a record high for July in mainland Portugal.

The Carlos III Health Institute said on Thursday that at least 43 people had died during the first two days of the latest heatwave, on Sunday and Monday, because of the heat.

Health officials in Portugal recorded 238 deaths more than normal since 7 July which they attributed to the very hot and very dry conditions. The worst affected are the elderly, children and people with chronic diseases. Emergency officials said 187 had been injured because of the fires in the past week.


More than 30 fires were active in Portugal on Friday, including one in a forest at Pombal in the central region of Leiria which has lasted a week. More than 300 sq km have been torched this year, a bigger area than in all of 2021.

The EU’s Copernicus emergency management service tweeted a map showing the biggest fire risks across Southern Europe and Morocco.

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Police in south-west France went from door to door in an effort to evacuate 4,000 residents from the Cazaux district south-west of Bordeaux. Smoke could be seen close to the town of La Teste-de-Buch and there were long queues of traffic as people tried to leave and police blocked entrances to stop drivers getting in.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said an electric car was responsible for the fire at La Teste-de-Buch but prosecutors said a second fire at Landiras in the Gironde region was being classified as criminal.

One holidaymaker, Matthias, told BFMTV how he and his son had been told to escape immediately: “We started packing our things but the lady told us, no, you have to leave everything as it is. You try to keep calm but it’s hard not to be scared because it happens so fast.”

Firefighters were deployed to stop blazes spreading in the Cáceres in western SpainIMAGE SOURCE,CIVIL PROTECTION SPAIN
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Firefighters were deployed to stop blazes spreading in the Cáceres in western Spain

An estimated 73 sq km of pine forest has burned down in recent days, including around Arcachon and Landiras. Temperatures hit 40C in several areas of the south on Friday, including Béziers and Nîmes, and the head of the national firefighters’ federation warned there were still two months of summer to go.

“The situation is highly complex. Our morale is still good but fatigue sets in fast. That’s why we’re calling for a target of 250,000 volunteer firefighters,” Mr Allione told RMC TV.

Italy and Croatia have also reported forest fires this week, and eight people had to jump into the sea at Bibione on the Adriatic coast to escape the fire and smoke.

Strong winds have greatly increased the risk of wildfires in five regions in Greece, civil protection officials have warned.

Central Greece, Attica and Crete are among the areas most at risk and the fire brigade said they had counted 51 forest fires in the past 24 hours.

Fires were reported in Crete and on the mainland in Attica on Friday. Emergency services issued an urgent appeal to residents south-east of Athens to flee the village of Feriza Saronikos for the coast.

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