Heatwave: Warnings of ‘heat apocalypse’ in France

By Alys Davies

BBC News

Media caption,

WATCH: French firefighters attempt to control a wildfire that scorches a forest in Gironde

Western France is facing a “heat apocalypse”, experts have warned, as extreme temperatures continue to hit much of Europe.

Temperatures could reach record levels in 15 regions of the southwest, with firefighters battling wildfires and thousands forced to evacuate.

Blazes in Spain, Portugal and Greece have forced thousands more to flee.

Record temperatures are also expected in parts of the UK, which has its first ever red extreme heat warning in place.

Wildfires in France in recent days have forced over 16,000 people to flee the area, with emergency shelters set up for evacuees.

Gironde, a popular tourist region in the southwest, has been hit particularly badly, with firefighters battling to control fires which have destroyed over 14,000 hectares (34,000 acres) of land since last Tuesday.

Endless pockets of fire

Jessica Parker, BBC News, La-Teste-de-Buch

We joined a convoy of journalists escorted into woodland in the direction of the coast where campsites were abandoned by holidaymakers days ago.

At first you could see clouds of smoke hanging in the woods but it all seemed relatively under control.

But, the further in we went, the worse it got.

Suddenly there were endless pockets of fire on the side of the road. Trees were burning. Firefighters along the route were endlessly trying to tackle the most serious hot spots.

They are trying to prevent the blaze spreading across the road. It is hot work in smoky conditions.

As we got closer to the shore, suddenly there was a roar above our heads. It was a Canadair aircraft – a “water bomber”.

Six of them have been deployed to the area to help put out the flames. It seemed like four or five passed over our heads, one releasing a huge burst of water on the ground below.

Jean-Luc Gleyze, president of the Gironde region, told the BBC the fires had continued to grow in La-Teste-de-Buch and Landiras because of the hot and windy weather, making it difficult for firefighters to contain them.

“They have to fight against this fire which is growing and growing, sometimes getting very, very high,” he said.

More villages will have to be evacuated, he added.

The heatwave has prompted warnings of what one meteorologist described to AFP news agency as “an apocalypse of heat” in some areas of the southwest.

In Spain and Portugal, more than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the heat in recent days.

In the central province of Zamora, where a fire has been blazing since the weekend, the body of a shepherd was found in the Sierra de la Culebra mountain range. He is the second fatal casualty of the Zamora fire after a 62-year-old firefighter was killed on Sunday.

In the north-eastern region of Catalonia, fire came right up to the house of Mercedes Pino near Pont de Vilomara.

“I was in bed and through the window I saw a very red light,” she told Spanish media. “I ran as fast as I could to the door and I saw a flame burning a caravan we have in front of the door.”

Wildfires have also broken out in the Mijas hills near Malaga, as well as Castilla y León, Galicia and Extremadura. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is due to visit the latter region on Monday.

Fires in Portugal have been largely contained, despite temperatures there hitting 47C (116F) on Thursday – a record for July.

But one third of the mainland still remains at extreme risk of fire, according to the national meteorological office IPMA. This is due to severe or extreme drought conditions virtually everywhere, the BBC’s Portugal correspondent Alison Roberts says.

After the trauma of June 2017, when 66 lives were lost in fires, emergency and civil defence commanders’ top priority has been to act early to protect life, leading to the evacuation of over 860 people from their homes across the north and south of the country, she adds.

Media caption,

BBC weather forecaster Ben Rich explains what is driving the ferocious heat across Europe

The heatwave is the second to hit parts of southwest Europe in recent weeks.

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.

Enrique Sanchez, the Dean of the Faculty Environmental Sciences and Biochemistry at The University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain told the BBC that heatwaves would soon become the norm.

“In the long term, I mean in the following years, there is no way that the temperatures are going to [not] increase, so heat wave events will become more and more common… all along Europe,” he said.

Are you in an area that has been affected by the wildfires? You can get in touch by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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