Thousands of firefighters are battling blazes in Portugal, where a string of wildfires have left entire villages rushing for safety as much of Southern Europe contends with a surge in temperatures.
Swaths of the continent are experiencing an intense heat wave, with the temperature in some parts of Portugal reaching up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, according to the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere, or IPMA, the highest ever recorded by the agency.
“In this dry, warm weather, any beginning of a small fire can grow and spread very fast,” said Paula Leitao, a weather forecaster at the IPMA. “It’s a very big problem.”
The Portuguese government on Thursday extended the state of emergency to Sunday.
“Weather forecasts indicate that today we will have the most serious day,” Prime Minister
said at a press conference, adding that the combination of rising temperatures, an increase in winds from the east and low humidity would worsen the blazes. More than 200 new fires began on Wednesday, Mr. Costa said.
The fires are concentrated in six districts in central Portugal, with some 1,500 active firefighters, 425 vehicles and 20 aerial resources tackling the blazes, according to Andre Fernandes, the national commander of the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority.
The fires began in several different districts on July 7 and quickly spread as temperatures rose. Between 24,000 and 27,000 acres have been burned over the past seven days.
“Every day we still have new ignitions,” Mr. Fernandes said. As of noon on Thursday, 71 new fires had started in Portugal, although they are reportedly under control.
Some 865 people have been evacuated from their homes, but most have already returned, Mr. Fernandes said. About 160 civilians and firefighters are being treated for minor injuries, and no casualties have resulted from the fires.
Wildfires are also breaking out in Spain, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and southern France, causing thousands of residents throughout the Mediterranean region to evacuate.
Spain sent two firefighting planes to Portugal on Monday after the country requested assistance under the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Those planes have since returned to Spain to help control fires there, Mr. Fernandes said. Italy has sent two planes to replace the Spanish ones, he said.
a European Commission vice president, warned recently that “the present drought in Europe could become the worst ever.” Italy is battling its worst water shortages in decades. The Po river, the main water source for some of the country’s most fertile farmlands, is at its lowest level since at least the mid-1940s. The drought is threatening key crops like corn and soybeans, putting pressure on the price of food commodities already strained by the war in Ukraine.
In France, a dry May followed by intense storms in early June destroyed wheat, fruit and vineyards across the country. Strategie Grains, a France-based agriculture consulting firm, forecast a fall of more than 5% in French wheat production in a June report.
Along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, meanwhile, firefighting planes dumped water over burning woodlands as civilian and military teams fought to contain wildfires.
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