Firefighters have battled to contain wildfires sweeping across southwest Europe as a heatwave showed no sign of abating, with Britain poised to set new temperature records as of Monday.
Blazes raging in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land and forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee.
It is the second heatwave to engulf parts of southwest Europe in weeks. Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather such as heatwaves and drought.
A study published in June in the journal ‘Environmental Research: Climate’ concluded it was highly probable that climate change was making heatwaves worse.
More than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the nearly week-long heatwave in Portugal and Spain so far. Temperatures in Spain have reached as high as 45.7C.
Spain’s weather agency issued temperature warnings for Sunday, with highs of 42 Celsius forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north. It said the heatwave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
Fires were raging in several other regions including Castille and Leon in central Spain and Galicia in the north on Sunday afternoon. Firefighters stabilised a blaze in Mijas, in Malaga province, and said evacuated people could return home.
British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy had fled for safety with other evacuees in a local sport centre from their home on Saturday as the fire approached.
“It was very fast …. I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had it under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction,” William, 68, told Reuters.
In France, wildfires have now spread over 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the southwestern region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people have been evacuated, regional authorities said on Sunday afternoon.
More than 1,200 firefighters were trying to control the blazes, the authorities said in a statement.
France issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, with residents urged “to be extremely vigilant”.
In Italy, where smaller fires have blazed in recent days, forecasters expect temperatures above 40C in several regions in coming days.
Similar temperatures were recorded in Portugal on Sunday and are forecast in Britain on Monday and Tuesday, in what would top its previous official record of 38.7C (102F) set in Cambridge in 2019.