Wildfires blaze through Europe as heatwave brings 40°C temperatures to the UK

UK deputy prime minister calls on the public to be 'resilient' and 'enjoy the sunshine', as Met Office issues its first-ever red warning over extreme heat

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Firefighters in Europe are struggling to contain several wildfires sweeping across the continent as record-breaking temperatures continue to soar and threaten lives and homes.

Wildfires raged in France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Hungary this week, with tens of thousands of people evacuated from their homes as fires blazed and burnt thousands of acres of land.

An unusually dry, hot spring has ushered in the fire season earlier than usual, and experts warn that climate change is likely to make wildfires more frequent.

Britain’s Met Office weather agency issued its first-ever “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, when temperatures in southern England may reach 40°C for the first time.

The weather monitoring body defines a red, level 4, alert as being reached “when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system.”

It warned that the “exceptional hot spell” could lead to “widespread impacts on people and infrastructure”, and that “substantial changes in working practices and daily routines will be required”.

But the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday that people should be resilient enough to be able to “enjoy the sunshine” and urged people to take “common sense” precautions amid soaring temperatures.

“Obviously there is some common sense practical advice we are talking about — stay hydrated, stay out of the sun at the hottest times, wear sun cream — those sorts of things,” said Mr Raab on Sky News.

He stopped short of advising people to work from home, saying it was “for employers to consider and people to decide.”

“I’m not going to start dictating things like that. But obviously we have got more flexible working. So that will also help with this kind of thing,” said Mr Raab.

His comments followed a weekend of steadily increasing temperatures and a second UK government Cobra heatwave meeting held on Saturday, after meteorologists warned that record highs in England could put lives at risk.

An early heatwave has already kept highs above 40°C in several parts of Europe, including Spain where 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures in the period from July 10 to July 14, compared with 25 temperature-related deaths the previous week.

A pilot in Portugal died during an operation on Friday, after a week of blazes around the country mobilised more than 1,000 firefighters, working with residents desperate to save their homes.

It was the first fire fatality in Portugal this year but the blazes have injured more than 160 people this week and forced hundreds to be evacuated.

Portuguese state television RTP said more than 30,000 hectares of land have burnt this year — mostly in the past week — already exceeding the total for 2021.

In France, firefighters have been struggling to contain raging fires that have been sweeping across pine forests in the Bordeaux region for more than six consecutive days.

About 11,000 people have been evacuated from the region leaving firefighters to focus their efforts on saving as many homes as possible.

The regional emergency services were able to contain another fire in southern France, near the popular Atlantic coast resort of Arcachon, but said “tough meteorological conditions” frustrated efforts to put out the largest fire in Bordeaux.

French authorities said at least 9,650 hectares have burnt in recent days.

Spain, Croatia and Hungary have also suffered wildfires as several European countries face exceptional heat this month.

Experts say that heatwaves, made hotter, longer and more frequent by climate change, are likely to be a more regular occurrence and that homes and offices may need to be adapted to accommodate rising and extreme temperatures.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 6:54 AM