Wildfires rage across Europe amid record temperatures

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Fire brigades in Tuscany on Wednesday battled for a second day to control a wildfire that has forced hundreds to relocate, while a blaze in northeast Italy spread to Slovenia and threatened to leave the city of Trieste without power and water.

Wildfires have broken out in several parts of Italy this week as temperatures keep rising. Emergency services battled wildfires across swaths of southern Europe after a record-breaking heat wave, widely blamed on global warming by scientists and climatologists, settled in last week.

Nine cities were on Italy’s highest heat alert, which warns of serious health risks linked to the weather, up from five on Tuesday. The total is expected to rise to 14 on Thursday, including Rome, Milan and Florence, and 16 on Friday.

Temperatures are forecast to hit 40 C across a swath of the north and centre this week, as well as in Puglia in the south and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

On Wednesday, a fire that broke out on Monday evening near the Tuscan town of Lucca continued to burn, having already destroyed some 600 hectares of woods.

It forced around 500 people to relocate as the flames raged through the night, reaching some villages and causing some liquefied gas tanks to explode, the region’s governor Eugenio Giani said on Twitter.

A firefighter sprays water on burning scrubland.
Firefighters try to put down a fire near the city of Massarosa in Tuscany, Italy, on Wednesday. (Federico Scoppa/AFP/Getty Images)

“Some fronts have strengthened because of the wind,” Giani said.

Meanwhile the local administration in the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia prepared to widen to the entire region a fire alert after a blaze that started on Tuesday in the Carso area bordering Croatia and Slovenia.

Residents were urged to stay indoors on Wednesday because of the heavy smoke, and state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri closed down a plant employing 3,000 in the Adriatic port city of Monfalcone.

A helicopter is seen above a mountain, surrounded by smoke.
A helicopter flies above a wildfire in Jamiano, Italy, on Wednesday. Nine cities in Italy are on the country’s highest heat alert; that number is expected to reach 16 by Friday. (Borut Zivulovic/Reuters)

As the fire crossed the border into Slovenia, the residents of four villages seen at risk from the flames have been urged to leave their homes, Italian media reported.

Trieste Mayor Roberto Dipiazza told a local television channel that parts of the city of around 200,000 people could soon stop receiving electricity, without specifying why, and that this would affect water supply because pumps would not be able to function.

Hospital, homes evacuated in Greece

In Greece, thick smoke darkened the sky over Mount Penteli, 27 kilometres north of Athens, where close to 500 firefighters, 120 fire engines and 15 water-carrying planes managed to control the spread of a blaze that was fuelled by gale-force winds.

Authorities said they evacuated nine settlements and a hospital, and police helped at least 600 residents out of fire zones. Strong winds were forecast to persist in the area until Thursday.

Firefighters are seen behind flames rising in the air.
Firefighters are seen behind a burning house during a wildfire in Pikermi, north of Athens, on Wednesday. (Aris Oikonomou/AFP/Getty Images)

“Yesterday’s fire in the area of Penteli had all the features of a situation which was very hard to manage,” Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said in a televised statement later on Wednesday.

“Now the fire has been brought under control.”

Last year, wildfires ravaged forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heat wave in 30 years.

Macron visits damaged French region

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the country’s worst-hit Gironde region, in the southwest, as local authorities said improved weather conditions as France’s heat wave moved east were helping the battle to contain the flames.

Macron met with firefighters who have been battling the flames for a week. French firefighters created huge firebreaks through threatened forests, using heavy machinery to tear out trees and roots, leaving large barren strips to stop the fires.

A man in a suit shakes hands with one of several firefighters in a line.
French President Emmanuel Macron meets firefighters at a field command post in La Teste-de-Buch, near Arcachon, on Wednesday. (Bob Edme/Reuters)

The leader of the Gironde fire brigade, Marc Vermeulen, briefed the president on their formidable efforts to contain the blaze.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” he said, noting that 20-year-old pine trees were “exploding in the extreme heat.”

Macron said the shift in climate is leading to more wildfires and will force France and the European Union to take “structural decisions … in the years to come.”

The sun is shown above a fire-damaged forest.
This photo provided by the fire brigade of the Gironde region shows a burnt pine forest near Landrias, in southwestern France, on Tuesday. (SDIS 33/The Associated Press)

While cooler weather also gave firefighters in Spain and Portugal some respite, temperatures are forecast to rise back to 40 C in the coming days.

Portugal’s northern region’s Civil Protection commander Armando Silva said the rising temperatures and strong winds would make it harder to fight the country’s largest wildfire, which has burned 10,000 to 12,000 hectares since Sunday in and around the municipality of Murça.

In Spain, a spate of blazes in the northwestern Galicia region has burned 85 houses and forced the relocation of 1,400 people. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the area late Tuesday and warned of “hard days ahead here in Galicia and the rest of Spain.”

That 40 C mark was topped in Britain for the first time on Tuesday, shattering the country’s previous temperature record by 1.6 degrees.

British engineers raced on Wednesday to fix train tracks that had buckled in the heat after firefighters, who in London endured their busiest day since the Second World War on Tuesday, worked through the night to damp down wildfires.

Four men stand in front of a line of burnt-out houses.
Villagers look at burnt houses after a wildfire in A Veiga de Cascalla, near O Barco de Valdeorras, northern Spain, on Tuesday. (Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

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