Wildfires rage in Greece, Spain and Italy as heatwave moves across Europe

By Alys Davies & Malu Cursino

BBC News

Media caption,

Watch: High winds fuel fire raging near Athens

Wildfires are raging across Europe, where a heatwave has intensified drought conditions.

Though temperatures have cooled in France and the UK, firefighters are still tackling blazes in Greece, Spain and Italy.

The fires in France’s badly hit south-west have started to be brought under control.

And as the heatwave moves north-east, low water levels are hampering transport on rivers in Germany.

In Greece, nearly 500 firefighters were tackling a blaze on Mount Penteli, to the north-east of the capital Athens.

In the nearby town of Pallini, state electricity workers were scrambling to remove burnt pylons, the BBC’s Kostas Koukoumakas reports.

Takis Panagopoulos, 87, woke up at 03:00 (00:00 GMT) to a red sky. “The fire surrounded the house and I managed to leave the area by car,” he said.

Mr Panagopoulos, who was for many years an amateur actor, said his house could be rebuilt but his collection of more than 1,200 theatre books had been turned to ashes.

Firefighting helicopters were dropping water, one after the other. Winds in excess of 80km/h (49mph) have made it harder to contain the fire.

Almost all the water carriers in the region have been deployed. Greece’s fire service said additional support was expected from other regions.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from surrounding areas, including eastern Gerakas, which is home to nearly 30,000 people. A paediatric hospital and the National Observatory of Athens have also been vacated.

France has had some of the worst fires, particularly in the southwest region of Gironde, though conditions for tackling them have improved. Temperatures fell from 40C (104F) on Tuesday to the mid-20s on Wednesday.

“The conditions are favourable” to tackle the blazes, the mayor of La Teste-de-Buch – one of the affected areas in Gironde – told the BBC. Patrick Davet added, however, that it was necessary to stay “humble” as conditions could change.

French President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit the region.

Spain has also been battling multiple wildfires. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said more than 500 people had died from the heatwave so far.

Though one in the central province of Zamora has been brought under control, according to the local government, two large wildfires are still out of control in the north-western region of Galicia. A fire in the Gredos mountain range is also spreading east towards the Madrid region, the BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe reports.

Some 5,600 hectares (13,800 acres) of land have also been burnt in the north-eastern region of Aragon. Mr Sanchez is due to visit the region on Wednesday.

Major fires have also affected Italy in the past days, causing the country to be put on its highest heatwave alert for Thursday. Italian infrastructure has also been heavily impacted, with temporary closure of a key rail route between Rome and Florence, Italian media report.

The trains on the route have since resumed service. But another fire stopped the traffic on part of a motorway in the north-east for hours.

As the heatwave moves north-eastwards, warnings of hot weather of up to 39C (102F) are in place for parts of Germany on Wednesday, according to its national weather service, DWD.

The hot weather has also hampered transport in the country, with low water levels on the Rhine and Danube meaning cargo ships are having to significantly reduce their loads, authorities said.

Despite the hot temperatures forecast in many parts of the country, thunderstorms are predicted in the west. Heavy rain, strong gusts of wind of around 100km/h and even hail are forecast.

Thunderstorms are also expected in Belgium. Heavy rainfall, hail storms and lighting strikes are forecast, the national forecaster RMI says.

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