As Europe bakes in heatwave, wildfires rage from Portugal to Croatia

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  • Homes and campsites evacuated, livelihoods threatened
  • Flames descend on a hill near Pombal in Portugal
  • A fire rages near the highest sand dune in Europe
  • Europe is a ‘heat wave hotspot’, says scientist

LEIRIA, Portugal/RASLINA, Croatia, July 14 (Reuters) – Wildfires raged across dry land in Portugal, Spain, France and Croatia on Thursday, burning homes and threatening livelihoods, as Much of Europe is baked in a heatwave that has pushed temperatures into the mid-40s in some areas.

Southern European nations – experiencing the second heat wave in as many months – have been hit by a series of wildfires in recent weeks.

In the central district of Leiria, Portugal, tired firefighters battled to control blazes that were fanned by strong winds. Footage from the area on Wednesday showed smoke darkening the sky and rising over a highway, while flames licked the roofs of houses in a small village.

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“Yesterday was a very difficult day,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said during a briefing with the national meteorological institute IPMA.

“It is absolutely crucial to avoid further occurrences as this leads to burnout for firefighters and all others (…) who are doing their best to control the situation.”

The most worrying blaze occurred near the town of Pombal, where planes and helicopters dropped water on Thursday as flames raced down a hill lined with highly flammable pine and eucalyptus trees.

“When he gets to the eucalyptus, it’s like an explosion,” said Antonio, an elderly resident of the nearby village of Gesteira, as he anxiously watched the approaching flames.

Across the border in western Spain, a fire that broke out in the Extremadura region on Tuesday swept through the province of Salamanca in the Castile and Leon region, forcing the evacuation of 49 children from a summer camp.

Regional authorities said more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of land had been burned.

Spanish weather agency AEMET expects the heat wave to peak later on Thursday, with temperatures likely to exceed 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) in large parts of southern Spain.

THOUSANDS EVACUATED

On Croatia’s Adriatic coast, firefighting planes dived low to dump water on burning forests, and troops were called in to help firefighters battling to contain three major wildfires around from Zadar and Sibenek.

Arndt Dreste, 55, had moved this year to the village of Raslina, near Sibenik, after selling his property in Germany. His house was badly damaged by fire.

“I bought this house in January…I (am) cut off from Germany and this is my life here…it was here,” Dreste told Reuters, pointing to the charred walls of his home.

In southwestern France, more than 1,000 firefighters, supported by nine water bomber planes, were battling two wildfires that started on Tuesday. The fires have burned 5,300 hectares, a figure that has doubled in the past 24 hours.

“The situation on the ground is unfavorable, there is the heat wave and the wind,” Fabienne Buccio, prefect of the Gironde department, told local media, adding that the fires were still not under control. “And, as night is about to fall, we won’t be able to use our air assets.”

She also urged tourists planning to vacation in the area to avoid the area for a few days or weeks.

One of Gironde’s two fires occurred around the town of Landiras south of Bordeaux, where 2,4000 hectares were burned, roads closed and 500 residents evacuated.

The other fire, now the largest, occurred along the Atlantic coast, near the “dune du Pilat” – the highest sand dune in Europe – in the Bassin d’Arcachon region, in the above which heavy clouds of black smoke were seen rising into the sky.

About 6,000 people were evacuated from surrounding campsites on Wednesday and another 4,000 people early Thursday.

“HEATWAVE HOT SPOT”

Thousands of people were also evacuated from their homes on Turkey’s southwestern Datca Peninsula as a fire that broke out on Wednesday was fanned by high winds overnight and threatened residential areas.

The forestry minister said the blaze was brought under control on Thursday after seven firefighting planes and 14 helicopters were deployed to contain it. Read more

Scientists blame human-induced climate change for the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, which have also hit parts of China and the United States in recent days.

A study published last week in the journal Nature found that the number of heat waves in Europe has increased three to four times faster than in the rest of the mid-northern latitudes, such as the United States and Canada, in large part because of the jet the air stream splits into two parts for longer periods.

“Europe is very affected by changes in atmospheric circulation,” co-author Kai Kornhuber, a climatologist at Columbia University, told Reuters. It’s a hot spot in the heatwave.”

Some Europeans, however, welcomed the heat. In Catania, on the east coast of Italian Sicily, tourists and locals crowded into cafes to eat granita, a frozen dessert, and jumped into the sea to cool off.

“The heat here is a bit tiring, but I think it’s the least tiring thing we’ve faced this year, I’m happy to put up with it,” said Catania resident Pierpaola.

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Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris, Gloria Dickie in London, Ali Kucukgocmen and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul, Oriana Boselli in Rome and Reuters TV; Written by Alex Richardson; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Deepa Babington

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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