Fierce wildfires force thousands in southwestern France to flee homes

Wildfires raged in southwestern France and Spain on Saturday, forcing thousands of people 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 tried to bring the flames under control, regional authorities said in a statement.

Wildfires have torn through France in recent weeks, as well as in other European countries including Portugal and Spain. Nearly 10,000 hectares of land were on fire in the Gironde region on Saturday, up from 7,300 hectares on Friday.

Blazes battled in Spain, too

In neighbouring Spain, firefighters were battling a series of blazes on Saturday after days of unusually high temperatures that reached up to 45.7 C.

A wildfire is seen advancing near a residential area in Alhaurin de la Torre, Malaga, Spain, on Saturday. (Gregorio Marrero/The Associated Press)

The nearly week-long heat wave has caused 360 heat-related deaths, according to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute.

More than 3,000 people have been forced from their homes due to a large wildfire near Mijas, a town in the southern 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.

A wildfire near Casas de Miravete, Spain, is seen burning on Saturday. (Isabel Infantes/Reuters)

Elsewhere in Spain, thick black plumes of smoke rose into the air near Casas de Miravete in the Extremadura region as helicopters dumped water on flames that have scorched 3,000 hectares, forced the evacuation of two villages and threatened to reach the Monfrague national park.

Fires were also burning in the central region of Castille and Leon and in Galicia in the north.

Temperature relief in Portugal

There was some respite for firefighters in Portugal, where temperatures dropped across most of the country on Saturday after reaching about 40 C in recent days.

A helicopter is seen dropping water Saturday on a wildfire near the village of Bustelo in northern Portugal. (Patricia De Melo Moreiera/AFP/Getty Images)

“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 were 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 Portugal’s 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 heat wave between July 7 and 13, most of them elderly people with underlying conditions.

Forest fire in Morocco

Across the Mediterranean from Europe, blazes in Morocco ripped through more than 2,000 hectares of forest in the northern areas of Larache, Ouazzane, Taza and Tetouan, killing at least one person, local authorities said.

Firefighters are seen battling a forest fire near the Moroccan city of Ksar el-Kebir in the Larache region on Friday. (Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 1,000 households were evacuated. Water-carrying planes helped extinguish most of the fires by Friday night, though firefighters were still struggling to douse three hot spots near Larache.

In Britain, the national weather forecaster has issued its first red “extreme heat” warning for parts of England on Monday and Tuesday.

The highest recorded temperature in Britain was 38.7 C, recorded in Cambridge on July 25, 2019.

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By Jon Doe