The fires burn Spain and France, where the flames reach the beach


Firefighters battled out-of-control wildfires in Spain and France, including one whose flames reached two popular Atlantic beaches on Sunday, as Europe withers under an unusually extreme heat wave.

So far, there have been no fire-related deaths in France or Spain, but authorities in Madrid have blamed high temperatures for hundreds of deaths. And two huge fires, which have consumed pine forests in southwestern France for six days, have forced the evacuation of some 16,200 people.

In dramatic images posted online, a wall of black smoke could be seen advancing into the Atlantic on a stretch of the Bordeaux coastline that is prized by surfers from around the world. Flames raced through trees that abutted a wide sandy beach as planes flew low to suck up ocean water. Elsewhere, smoke blanketed the horizon over a mass of charred trees in images shared by French firefighters.

In Spain, firefighters supported by military brigades tried to put out more than 30 fires that consumed forests throughout the country. Spain’s Department of National Defense said “most” of its firefighting aircraft have been deployed to reach the fires, many of which are in rugged, mountainous terrain that is difficult for ground crews to access. .

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after a hot, dry spring that the European Union has blamed on climate change. Some countries are also experiencing prolonged droughts, while many are suffocating with heat waves.

In Spain’s second summer heat wave, many areas have repeatedly seen spikes of 43 C (109 F). According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related deaths daily, 360 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-15. That compared with 27 temperature-related deaths in the previous six days.

Almost all of Spain was under high temperature alert for another day on Sunday, while heat wave warnings were in place for about half of France, where scorching temperatures were expected to rise further on Monday. The French government has stepped up efforts to protect people in nursing homes, the homeless and other vulnerable populations after a heat wave and poor planning led to nearly 15,000 deaths in 2003, especially among the elderly.

The fire at La Teste-de-Buch has forced more than 10,000 people to flee at a time when many tend to flock to the nearby Atlantic coast area for vacations. French authorities have closed several places to the public along that coast due to the fire, including the beaches of La Lagune and Petit Nice which were hit by fire on Sunday, and Europe’s tallest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat.

The Gironde regional government said on Sunday afternoon that “the situation remains very unfavorable” due to gusty winds that helped fuel further outbreaks overnight.

A second fire near the town of Landiras has forced authorities to evacuate 4,100 people this week. Officials said one flank has been controlled by the dumping of white sand along a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) stretch. Another flank, however, remains unchecked.

People who were forced to flee shared their concerns about their abandoned homes with the local media, with local officials organizing special trips for some to search for pets they had left behind in the rush to safety.

Overall, more than 100 square kilometers (40 square miles) of land have burned in the two fires.

Emergency officials warned that high temperatures and winds on Sunday and Monday would complicate efforts to stop the fires from spreading.

“We have to be very cautious and very humble, because the day will be very hot. We don’t have a favorable weather window,” regional fire official Eric Florensan said on France-Bleu radio on Sunday.

Some of the most worrying fires in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. Images of plumes of dark smoke rising over forested hills that have turned brown in the sun have become commonplace in several sparsely populated rural areas.

The dry conditions in the Iberian Peninsula have made it particularly susceptible to forest fires. Since last October, Spain has accumulated 25 percent less rain than is considered normal, with some areas receiving up to 75 percent less than normal, the Department of Homeland Security said.

While some fires have been caused by lightning strikes and others by human negligence, a fire that broke out in a nature reserve in Extremadura called La Garganta de los Infiernos, or “Hell’s Throat,” is suspected to have been the result of arson, regional authorities said.

Firefighters have not been able to stop the advance of a fire that has broken out near the city of Cáceres that threatens the Monfragüe National Park and has prevented 200 people from returning to their homes. Another fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga has forced the evacuation of another 2,500 people.

The office of the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, has announced that this Monday he will travel to Extremadura to visit some of the most affected areas.

Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete have also battled wildfires this week, as have Morocco and California. Italy is in the midst of an early-summer heat wave coupled with the worst drought in the north in 70 years, conditions linked to a recent disaster, when a large part of the Marmolada glacier calved, killing several hikers.

Scorching temperatures have even reached northern Europe. An annual four-day walking event in the Dutch city of Nijmegen announced on Sunday that it would cancel the first day, scheduled for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to peak around 39 C (102 F).

Britain’s weather agency has issued its first “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England may reach 40 C (104 F) for the first time.

The executive director of the College of Paramedics, Tracy Nicholls, warned on Sunday that the “fierce heat” could “end in the death of people”.


Wilson reported from Barcelona, ​​Spain. Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed from The Hague, Netherlands.

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