Adds new numbers from France, latest from Portugal
LISBON, July 17 (Reuters) – Authorities in southern Europe battled on Sunday to control huge wildfires in countries including Spain, Greece and France, where thousands of people were evacuated by high temperatures.
In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as the scorching heat and often mountainous terrain made the job more difficult for firefighters.
National weather agency AEMET has issued high temperature warnings for Sunday, with maximum temperatures of 42 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) predicted in Aragon, Navarre and La Rioja in the north. He said the heat wave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
Spain experienced an almost week-long heatwave, with highs of 45.7C (114F).
In the province of Malaga, wildfires raged overnight, affecting local residents near Mijas, a town popular with tourists from northern Europe.
British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy had to make a quick escape from their home on Saturday. They were taken to a local sports center with other evacuees.
“It was very quick…I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had everything under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction and then we were said to go. So we left a lot of stuff behind,” William, 68, told Reuters.
“We just grabbed a few essentials and just ran and at this point everyone along the street was moving,” Ellen said.
Mari Carmen Molina, a local councilor from Alhaurin, one of the evacuated towns, said she feared houses could be destroyed.
“It’s terrible. It’s a very difficult situation,” she said.
In France, wildfires had now spread to 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the southwestern region of Gironde, and more than 14,000 people had been evacuated, regional authorities announced on Sunday afternoon .
More than 1,200 firefighters were trying to bring the flames under control, authorities said in a statement.
DROUGHT IN PORTUGAL
In Portugal, firefighters were trying to bring five forest and rural fires under control in the center and north of the country, the largest near the northern town of Chaves.
Portugal’s health ministry said on Saturday evening that in the past seven days 659 people have died due to the heat wave, most of them elderly people. He said the weekly peak of 440 deaths occurred on Thursday, when temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in several areas and 47C (117F) at a meteorological station in the Vizeu district in the center of the country.
The country is struggling with extreme drought – mainland Portugal already had 96% of its territory in severe or extreme drought at the end of June, before the recent heat wave, according to data from the national meteorological institute IPMA.
Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes urged people to be careful not to start new fires in such dry conditions.
In Greece, firefighters said on Saturday that 71 fires broke out in 24 hours. On Sunday, more than 150 firefighters were battling a blaze that had been burning forests and farmland since Friday in Rethymno on the island of Crete. The flames were fueled by strong winds. Local fire officials said on Sunday it had been partially brought under control.
In Britain, the National Meteorologist issued its first red ‘extreme heat’ warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday, predicting temperatures could reach 40C (104F), topping the previous record high of 38.7°C (102°F) in 2019.
(Reporting by Layli Foroudi, Sergio Goncalves, Jessica Jones, Renee Maltezou, Jon Nazca and Mariano Valladolid Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry Editing by Mark Potter and Philippa Fletcher)
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