LONDON – Hundreds more people were evacuated from their homes on Friday as wildfires scorched land in France, Spain, and Portugal, and officials in Europe issued heat-related health warnings for the coming days.
More than 1,000 firefighters, aided by water-bomber aircraft, have been battling two blazes in southwestern France since Tuesday, which have been fueled by scorching heat, tinder-box conditions, and strong winds.
While temperatures in Portugal have dropped slightly, they are still expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas, with five districts on red alert for extreme weather and more than 1,000 firefighters battling 13 wildfires, according to authorities.
In Spain, the Environment Ministry said it was assisting in the suppression of 17 wildfires across the country.
Officials are concerned about the effects on people’s health and healthcare systems already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic as the continent’s searing heat hits, with warnings issued for worse to come in the United Kingdom in particular.
The World Meteorological Organization warned on Friday that the heatwave would trap pollutants in the atmosphere, degrading air quality, particularly in towns and cities.
“The stable and stagnant atmosphere acts as a lid to trap atmospheric pollutants, including particulate matter,” Lorenzo Labrador, WMO scientific officer, told a Geneva press briefing.
“These result in a degradation of air quality and adverse health effects, particularly for vulnerable people.”
From July 7 to July 13, Portugal registered 238 excess deaths due to the heatwave, the country’s DGS health authority said.
“In this specific case, the excess can be attributed to the heatwave. In the last few days we have had very high, extreme temperatures … and for a very long period,” DGS chief GraÃ§a Freitas told Lusa news agency.
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. – Reuters