Thousands of people in Portugal, Spain, France and Morocco have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters tackle wildfires caused by this week’s heat wave, which has brought extreme temperatures of more than 45C (113F) to parts of Europe and North Africa.
One person has died and at least 135 people have mainly been slightly injured since forest fires started in Portugal last week. A “state of emergency” has been in place since Sunday, and about 800 people have been evacuated from their homes, according to the country’s civil protection authority.
By Thursday, Portugal had registered 28 active fires with more than 2,000 firefighters on the ground.
The Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) said 13 regions had reached unprecedented temperatures on Wednesday, with a temperature of 46.3 C recorded in the central city of Lousã.
“This is not a very normal situation and it is serious in all aspects,” IPMA meteorologist Patrícia Gomes told the Portuguese press.
Pedro Pimpão, the mayor of Pombal, a municipality in central Portugal, said the situation was “incredibly serious”, adding: “We have had houses burned down, people have been injured – both firefighters and civilians – and one of our residents have ended up with 50% burns. “
He said many villages in the area were completely isolated, meaning residents had to fight to save their homes until firefighters arrived.
The fire, which was of unprecedented magnitude for the region, has since been controlled, but the area is still on maximum alert.
The continuing forest fires come five years after the devastating fire in the central municipality of Pedrógão Grande, which killed 66 people and left hundreds injured and ravaged 30,000 hectares of forest.
During a visit to wounded firefighters in Lisbon on Thursday, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa insisted that there had been significant improvements in fire prevention in recent years.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in the southwest France when forest fires raged out of control Friday.
Since Tuesday, more than 1,000 firefighters, backed by nine water bombers, have battled two fires triggered by scorching heat, peak-box conditions and strong winds.
Authorities in the Gironde department, where the fires are still raging, described the situation as “unfavorable”.
One of the two Gironde fires was around the town of Landiras, south of Bordeaux, where 4,200 hectares have been burned, roads have been closed and nearly 1,000 residents have been evacuated.
The second fire, which has already burned 3,100 acres, was along the Atlantic coast close to the “Dune du Pilat” – the highest dune in Europe – in the Arcachon Bay area, over which heavy clouds of dark 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.
Temperature records have been equalized or broken across many parts of Spain, where mercury hit 44.1C in the northwestern city of Ourense for the first time on Thursday. Temperatures in parts of Extremadura, where firefighters are battling a wildfire that has consumed more than 4,000 hectares of land, reached 45 ° C on Thursday.
On Friday, another fire broke out in Extremadura’s Monfragüe National Park, famous for its biodiversity and bird life.
Cayetano Torres, a spokesman for the Spanish Meteorological Office, Aemet, said that although the heat wave – Spain’s second summer so far – was expected to end on Monday, it may not be the last of the year.
He pointed out that there had been two heat waves in 2021, three in 2020 and 2019, one in 2018, five in 2017 and four in 2016.
“We can not draw a convincing conclusion, but a climatological analysis of temperature trends shows that high summer temperatures start earlier and become more intense,” Torres said. “There is also a slight tendency for prolonged heat waves.”
He also said that rising temperatures caused by global warming were already causing changes in the weather and changing the geography of parts of Spain.
“We know something is changing: the temperature charts show that each year is warmer than the previous one,” he said. “It is a clear trend and it is giving rise to desertification. You could say that Almería is an extension of the Sahara desert and it is heading south-east.”
Moroccan firefighters, soldiers, police officers and civil defense workers have fought at least four fires tearing through forests in the north of the country.
At least 1,000 hectares of forest have been burned since Wednesday night in Larache and Ouezzane, according to initial reports.
The country, which is struggling under intense drought, has in recent days been hit by soaring temperatures approaching 45C.
Extreme heat has also consumed a lot of China this week affecting more than 900 million people. The effects of the high temperatures have created national headlines, with authorities warning senior citizens of the dangers of such conditions.
On Thursday, Shanghai, the country’s most populous city, issued its highest alarm for the third time this summer, as high temperatures repeatedly broke records. On Thursday afternoon, temperatures rose to 40.6 C, but fell below Wednesday’s 40.9 C, which matched an earlier record in 2017. However, a rainstorm on Friday brought relief to Shanghai residents.
By Thursday, the city had already issued three red warnings over a short period of five days. Meteorologists said these warnings were a relatively rare occurrence, with only 17 issued since registration began in 1873.
Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report