LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France (AP) — A heat wave that rocked Europe spread north to Britain on Monday. and sparked ferocious wildfires in Spain and France that displaced thousands of people and sent water-bombing planes and firefighters battling blazes in tinder-dry forests.
Two people were killed in a fire in Spain, whose prime minister linked global warming, saying “climate change is working”.
The toll comes on top of hundreds of heat-related deaths in the Iberian Peninsula as extreme temperatures grip the continent. Wildfires have sparked fires from Portugal to the Balkans in recent days. Some areas, including northern Italy, are experiencing prolonged drought. Climate change is making such life-threatening extremes rarer – and heatwaves have even hit places like Britain, which are ripe for potentially record-breaking temperatures.
Hot weather in England was expected to be more severe this week, with train operators warning it could derail tracks and some schools setting up swimming pools to help children cool off.
In France, heat records were broken and swirling warm air complicated firefighting in the southwest of the country.
“The fire is really exploding,” said Regional Fire Service Chief Mark Vermeulen, adding that tree trunks were crushed by the flames, sending burning embers into the air and spreading the fire further.
“We are facing extreme and exceptional circumstances,” he said.
Officials also evacuated towns and moved 14,900 people from areas in the fire and choking path. In total, more than 31,000 people have been forced from their homes and summer vacation spots in the Gironde region since the wildfires began on July 12.
Along with six firefighters, three additional planes were dispatched to douse seawater and make repeated runs through thick clouds of smoke, the interior ministry said on Sunday night.
More than 200 reinforcements joined 1,500 firefighters trying to put out the Gironde blaze, where flames are approaching prized vineyards and billowing smoke across the Arcachon sea basin, famed for its oysters and beaches..
Spain, meanwhile, reported its second death in two days from its own fires. The body of a 69-year-old sheep farmer was found on Monday in the same mountainous area where a 62-year-old firefighter died a day earlier in a fire in northwestern Zamora province. More than 30 wildfires around Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and burned 220 square kilometers (85 sq mi) of forest and scrub.
Passengers traveling on a train through Zamora got a frightening, close-up look at the flames as their train stopped in the countryside. Video of the unplanned — and unnerving — stop showed about a dozen terrified passengers on a train. Through the windows they saw flames on both sides of the track.
Climate scientists say heat waves are more likely, climate change has made wildfires more frequent and longer — and harder to fight — combined with drought. Climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, they say.
“Climate change is working,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, site of three major blazes. “It’s killing people, it’s killing our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for environmental change, described her country as “literally on fire” as she attended climate change talks in Berlin..
She warned of “more terrifying prospects in the coming days” – after more than 10 days of temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), with moderate cooling at night.
At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 C (117 F) earlier this month.
The heat wave is forecast to ease in Spain on Tuesday, but the respite will be short as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, particularly in the dry western Extremadura region.
In Britain, authorities have issued their first ever extreme heat warning, and the Met Office has predicted that the maximum temperature of 38.7 C (101.7 F) set in 2019 will be shattered.
“Forty-one is not on the cards,” said Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby. “We’ve even got a few 43s in the model, but we’re hoping it won’t be that many.”
The port of Brest in France’s often temperate Brittany region recorded 39.3 C (102.7 F), surpassing the highest temperature of 35.1 C since September 2003, French weather service Meteo-France said.
In what the weather service called Monday “the hottest day of this heat wave,” France’s regional records were broken in a dozen cities.
The Balkan region is expecting the worst of the heat later this week, but has already seen sporadic wildfires.
Early Monday morning, officials in Slovenia said firefighters had brought a blaze under control. Last week, Croatia sent a water-dropping plane to the Adriatic Sea after it was hit by wildfires. A fire in Šibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes, but was later extinguished.
In Portugal, extremely cold weather on Monday helped fire crews make progress. More than 600 firefighters attended four major fires in northern Portugal.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq. Associated Press reporters Danica Girca and Jill Lawless in London, Keir Moulson in Berlin, Raquel Redondo in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal and Joanna Keck in Belgrade, Serbia contributed.
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