Thousands of firefighters battled more than 20 fires that ravaged Portugal and western Spain on Wednesday, threatening villages and disrupting tourist vacations amid a heat wave that caused temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius ( 113 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of Europe.
In France, hundreds of firefighters, backed by six water bomber planes, battled two wildfires in the southwest, leading to the evacuation of thousands of campers, Gironde prefect Fabienne Buccio said.
In Santiago de Guarda, in the Portuguese central district of Leiria, Albertina Francisco struggled to hold back tears as a cloud of black smoke flew over the small town.
“It was very hard,” said Francisco, 42, who was helping evacuate his ailing sister. “No one helped: the firefighters and the plane (water bomber) have only just arrived here now … The state needs to do more to help us.”
Some villagers rescued pets while others helped firefighters fight the flames.
In Leiria, where more than 3,000 hectares have been burned so far, authorities blocked the main highways and side streets, as strong winds made it difficult for firefighters to fight the flames. Portugal’s most important motorway, which connects its capital Lisbon with Porto, was also blocked due to another fire further north.
About 900 firefighters were fighting three active fires in Leiria alone, while across mainland Portugal there were 2,841 firefighters on the ground and 860 vehicles.
In the Algarve region of southern Portugal, popular with tourists, a fire broke out in the city of Faro and spread to the luxury resort of Quinta do Lago. Videos shared online showed flames near villas, burning palm trees and parts of golf courses.
About half of Portugal affected by the drought will remain on red alert on Thursday for extreme heat conditions, with the highest temperatures expected in the Santarem and Castelo Branco districts, the IPMA meteorological institute said.
The highest temperature on Wednesday was recorded in the central city of Lousa at 46.3 degrees C (115 Fahrenheit), one degree below the 2003 record.
Retired Antonio Ramalheiro blamed forest fires for inadequate forest management in addition to the heat wave.
“When the fire comes it’s scary,” the 62-year-old said. “If he gets home it’s a shame … you lose everything.”
At least 135 people have suffered mostly minor injuries since wildfires began in Portugal last week and some 800 people have been evacuated from their homes, according to the Civil Protection Authority.
More than 2,700 hectares have been burned so far in the French region of Gironde, Prefect Buccio told BFM TV. The largest of the two fires occurs in the vicinity of the town of Landiras, south of Bordeaux, where roads have been cut off and 500 people evacuated.
The other is located along the Atlantic coast, near the iconic “Dune du Pilat”, the highest sand dune in Europe, located in the area of the Bay of Arcachon, above which clouds of dark smoke were seen rising into the sky.
That fire caused the preventive evacuation of 6,000 people from five campsites in the vicinity. They were taken to a local exhibition center to take refuge.
“Other campers woke us up around 4:30 in the morning. We had to leave immediately and quickly choose what we were carrying, ”Christelle, one of the evacuated tourists, told BFM TV.
On the eve of Bastille Day, the Gironde prefecture has banned all fireworks until Monday in towns and villages close to forests.
The World Meteorological Organization warned on Tuesday that the heat wave was spreading and intensifying in large parts of Europe.
With man-made climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% in the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 UN report.
Burning temperatures also swept China’s large Yangtze River basin on Wednesday; Firefighters faced a wildfire near the tourist city of Datca in Turkey, and energy demand in Texas reached an all-time high when consumers turned on their air conditioners to flee the city. heat.
In the western region of Extremadura, bordering Portugal, firefighters fought a fire that ravaged the province of Salamanca, in the region of Castilla y León, and burned more than 4,000 hectares.
Parts of the regions of Extremadura, Andalusia and Galicia were on red alert for extreme heat, reported the Spanish meteorological service AEMET, which added that the highest temperature in the country on Wednesday was 45.6 ºC in the province of Huelva.