Thursday 24 January 2019

Wildfires rage in Algarve as European heatwave sparks evacuations

police officer evacuates locals due to a wildfire close to Monchique in the Algarve. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
police officer evacuates locals due to a wildfire close to Monchique in the Algarve. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Andrei Khalip

Temperatures in Portugal, at the crest of a European heatwave, have begun to ease from near record levels - but a forest fire raged for a third day, battled by 800 firefighters and 12 aircraft.

The heatwave has brought drought and wildfires to Europe, from Greece to Sweden. In parts of Portugal, temperatures climbed to nearly 47C on Thursday and Saturday, just off the country's record of 47.3C and Europe's high of 48C set in Athens in 1977. Flames have consumed more than 1,000 hectares of forest, an area the size of more than 1,200 soccer fields, in the hilly Monchique area in the southern Algarve region popular with tourists. Authorities deployed 130 soldiers to help with the efforts.

"It's a terrible setting and considering the weather conditions it will not get better today," said civil protection commander Colonel Manuel Cordeiro.

Wildfires last year killed 114 people in Portugal's worst such tragedy on record and authorities were this time quick to evacuate more than 100 people from several villages around Monchique.

TV footage showed burnt-out cars and charred buildings the villagers had left behind.

Six people were hurt while trying to escape another blaze in Estremoz near the Spanish border on Saturday, authorities said.

That blaze has since been put out.

Firefighters from Portugal and Spain were battling a fire which had engulfed dry trees and shrubs near Badajoz. Spanish authorities issued a warning that the entire southern region of Extremadura is at an extreme risk of wildfires.

In Lisbon, the temperature hit a record 44C on Saturday, almost emptying the city streets normally teeming with tourists. Most regions remain on red alert for fires and heat stroke. By tomorrow, the temperature is expected to drop below 40C.

Hot air from North Africa has caused the most severe heatwave in Iberia since 2003, one of the worst years on record for forest fires. The longest drought in decades has been drying out rivers in the Netherlands. Wheat fields have been devastated across northern Europe, driving up prices.

In France, high temperatures registered in the Rhone and Rhine rivers, from which three nuclear power plants pump their water for cooling, led to a temporary shutdown of four reactors.

In Sweden, July was a record hot month and wildfires burnt in parts of the country.

Irish Independent

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