LONDON – Hundreds more people were evacuated from their homes as wildfires blistered land in France, Spain, and Portugal on Friday, while officials in Europe issued health warnings for the heatwave in the coming days.
More than 1 000 firefighters, supported by water-bomber aircraft, have battled since Tuesday to control two blazes in southwestern France that have been fanned by scorching heat, tinder-box conditions, and strong winds.
While temperatures dipped a little in Portugal, they were still expected to top 40 degrees Celsius in some places, with five districts on red alert and more than 1 000 firefighters tackling 17 wildfires, authorities said.
In Spain, the Environment Ministry said it was helping tackle 17 wildfires across the country.
Meanwhile, the worst drought in over 70 years reduced Italy’s longest river, the Po, to little more than a trickle in places.
Italy declared a state of emergency along the Po, which supports about a third of the country’s agricultural production, after facing its hottest July since 1800, with temperatures expected to rise next week.
Officials are worried about the effects on people’s health and on healthcare systems already challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic as the searing heat sweeps the continent, with warnings issued for worse to come in Britain in particular.
The World Meteorological Organisation said the heatwave will worsen air quality, especially in towns and cities.
Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido said on Thursday the health system faced a “particularly worrying” week due to the heatwave and said some hospitals were overwhelmed.
From July 7 to July 13, Portugal registered 238 excess deaths due to the heatwave, the country’s DGS health authority said.
Spain registered 84 excess deaths attributable to extreme temperatures in the first three days of the heatwave, according to the National Epidemiology Centre’s database.
Britain’s weather forecaster issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.