PARIS/LISBON: Wildfires raged in southwestern France and Spain on Saturday, forcing thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes as blistering summer temperatures put authorities on alert in parts of Europe.
More than 12,200 people had been evacuated from France’s Gironde region by Saturday morning as more than 1,000 firefighters battled to bring the flames under control, regional authorities said in a statement.
“We have a fire that will continue to spread as long as it is not stabilised,” Vincent Ferrier, deputy prefect for Langon in Gironde, told a news conference.
Wildfires have torn through France in recent weeks, as well as in other European countries including Portugal and Spain, and nearly 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land was on fire in the Gironde region on Saturday, up from 7,300 hectares on Friday.
In neighbouring Spain, firefighters were battling a series of blazes on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures which reached up to 45.7 degrees Celsius (114 Fahrenheit).
The nearly week-long heatwave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.
More than 3,000 people have now been evacuated from homes due to a large wildfire near Mijas, a town in the province of Malaga that is popular with northern European tourists, the region’s emergency services said in a tweet early on Saturday.
Many were taken to shelter in a provincial sports centre.
“The police drove up and down the road with their sirens on and everyone was told to leave. Just leave. No instructions where to go,” said British pensioner John Pretty, 83.
“It’s frightening ... because you don’t know what’s happening,” said Belgian resident Jean-Marie Vandelanotte, 68.
Elsewhere in Spain, fires burned in parts of the Extremadura region, close to the Portuguese border, where members of Spain’s Military Emergency Unit were deployed to help tackle the flames, and in the central Castille and Leon region.
There was some respite for firefighters in Portugal, where temperatures dropped across most of the country on Saturday after reaching about 40 C (104 F) in recent days.
“We have had big fires and we don’t want them to be reactivated again ... We will keep extreme vigilance this weekend,” Emergency and Civil Protection Authority Commander Andre Fernandes told reporters.
A total of 39,550 hectares (98,000 acres) was ravaged by wildfires from the start of the year until mid-June, more than triple the area razed by fires in the same period last year, data from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests showed.
An area equivalent to almost two-thirds of that has burned during fires in the last week.
Portugal’s Health Ministry said 238 people had died as a result of the heatwave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people with underlying conditions.
In Britain, the national weather forecaster has issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.
With possibly record-breaking temperatures expected, the government’s emergency response committee was due to meet later on Saturday.
The highest recorded temperature in Britain was 38.7 C (101.7 F), recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.