Western Europe ravaged by wildfires as hundreds reported dead from heat wave

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Wildfires raged in southwestern France, Spain, and Portugal on Saturday forcing thousands to evacuate from their homes as a persistent heat wave cut across Western Europe. 

On Saturday afternoon, 14,000 people had been evacuated from France’s Gironde region as more than 1,200 firefighters battled to bring the flames under control, regional authorities said in a statement.

“We have a fire that will continue to spread as long as it is not stabilized,” Vincent Ferrier, deputy prefect for Langon in Gironde, said in a news conference.

The ferocious flames ripped through the forest in the Bordeaux region of France for five continual days, while wildfires in Portugal have injured more than 160.

A pilot of a firefighting plane died Friday in a crash during an operation in northeast Portugal. It was the first fire fatality of the year in Portugal.

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The heatwave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.

Fire season hit parts of Europe earlier than expected due to an unusually hot and dry spring that left soil parched.

Firefighters backed by water-dumping planes are battling blazes in southern France and in the Casas de Miravete in the Extremadura region in Spain. Greece sent firefighting equipment to help.

National Republican Guard firefighters put out a forest fire in the village of Rebolo, near Ansiao central Portugal, Thursday, July 14, 2022.

National Republican Guard firefighters put out a forest fire in the village of Rebolo, near Ansiao central Portugal, Thursday, July 14, 2022.
(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

In the latest weather warning, 38 of France’s 96 departments were listed on “orange” alert, with residents of those areas urged to be vigilant. The heatwave in western France is expected to peak on Monday, with temperatures climbing above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

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In neighboring Spain, firefighters were battling a series of blazes on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures that reached up to 45.7 C (114 F).

A similar scene is playing out in Portugal, where more than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country,

There was some respite for firefighters in Portugal, where temperatures dropped across most of the country on Saturday after reaching about 40 C (104 F) in recent days.

“We have had big fires and we don’t want them to be reactivated again … We will keep extreme vigilance this weekend,” Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes told reporters.

A total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) were ravaged by wildfires from the start of the year until mid-June, more than triple the area razed by fires in the same period last year, data from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests showed.

An area equivalent to almost two-thirds of that has burned during fires in the last week.

Portugal’s Health Ministry said 238 people had died as a result of the heatwave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people with underlying conditions.

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Across the Mediterranean from Europe, blazes in Morocco ripped through more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the northern areas of Larache, Ouazzane, Taza and Tetouane, killing at least one person, local authorities said.

More than 1,000 households were evacuated from their villages and water-carrying planes helped extinguish most of the fires by Friday night, though firefighters were still struggling to douse three hot spots near Larache.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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