By HELENA ALVES and JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A wave of wildfires is sweeping parts of Europe, with firefighters battling flames in Portugal, Spain, Croatia and the south of France on Wednesday amid an unusual heat wave that authorities link to with climate change.
In Portugal, Civil Protection Commander André Fernandes said multiple fires prompted the evacuation of more than 600 people. Some 120 people required medical treatment, and two people, a civilian and a firefighter, suffered serious injuries, Fernandes said.
The planes that dropped water helped 1,300 firefighters fight the worst of the fires in the central area of the country, while another 1,000 worked to control other fires.
The European heat wave is also causing flames in Spain and France, and in Turkey at the other end of the Mediterranean.
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More than 800 firefighters battled two wildfires in the region outside Bordeaux in southwestern France, according to the regional emergency service. The fires started on Tuesday near the towns of Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch, and firefighters had been unable to contain them by Wednesday morning.
Some 6,500 people have been evacuated from camps and villages in the forested area. The number of injured is unclear. The two fires have destroyed more than 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres) of land. Footage from firefighters showed flames racing through thickets of trees and grasslands, fanned by high winds and smoke blackening the horizon.
The regional administration prohibited activity in wooded areas at risk. Several regions of southern France are on fire alert due to hot, dry weather and strong winds. Wildfires swept through the Gard region of southeastern France last week.
Portugal has long experienced fatal forest fires. In 2017, wildfires killed more than 100 people. No one has died from a forest fire since then, as Portugal improved its forest management and firefighting strategies.
Last year, Portugal recorded its lowest number of forest fires since 2011. But a mass of hot, dry air carried by African winds is raising temperatures on the Iberian Peninsula beyond their usual highs.
The Atlantic country, which has been on alert for forest fires since last week, is suffocating under a rise in temperatures that is forecast to send thermometers in the central Alentejo region to 46 C (115 F) on Wednesday and Thursday. . Officials said 96% of the country was classified at the end of June as being in “extreme” or “severe” drought.
More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) had been consumed in the Leiria district alone, just north of Lisbon, Mayor Goncalo Lopes told Portuguese state broadcaster RTP.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, who canceled a trip abroad to deal with the emergency, said better care for forests and abandoned farmland was key to protecting them.
“In 2017, the country realized that having enough firefighters is essential, but it is not enough,” Costa said. “We have to get to the root of the problem… Property abandonment and non-management is one of the biggest risk factors for wildfires.”
Neighboring Spain hit highs of 43 C (109.4 F) in several southern cities on Tuesday. More than 400 people were evacuated Tuesday due to a forest fire that has consumed 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) in western Spain.
Driven by strong winds, the fires also spread along Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast, with the most dramatic situation reported near the city of Sibenik, where water-dropping planes and dozens of firefighters struggled to contain the fires. flames that briefly engulfed some cars and a church tower. . Regional television N1 reported that some residents evacuated the area in rubber boats. Fires were also reported near the coastal city of Zadar.
Firefighter Boris Dukić told HRT state television that “it’s hell, we don’t know where to go first.”
European Union officials issued a warning last week that climate change is behind the continent’s extremely dry and hot summer so far, urging local authorities to prepare for wildfires.
Cayetano Torres, spokesman for Spain’s national meteorologist, said the “unusual” heat wave and lack of rain in recent months had created ideal conditions for the fires.
“These are perfect conditions for the spread of fires, that when you add a little wind, you have guaranteed spread,” he said.
In southwestern Turkey, a fire broke out near the village of Mesudiye, near the Aegean Sea resort of Datca, and was moving toward homes in the area, according to the provincial governor’s office. He said at least nine water-dropping helicopters and five planes were deployed to fight the fire.
Last summer, flames fueled by strong winds and scorching temperatures tore through forests in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions of Turkey. The forest fires, which killed at least eight people and countless animals, were described as the worst in Turkey’s history.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has come under heavy criticism for its inadequate response and preparation to fight large-scale wildfires, including a lack of modern firefighting aircraft.
Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain. Angela Charlton in Paris, Renata Brito in Barcelona, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.
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