UK braces for record temperatures as wildfires sweep across southwest Europe

The British Met Office has issued its first-ever “red warning” of extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures in southern England potentially reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time in recorded history. “Illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups,” the UK Health Security Agency warned, increasing its heat health warning from level three to level four. The British government held an emergency response meeting Saturday to plan for the high temperatures.

People in the UK have already been warned not to travel unless absolutely necessary and schools and nursing homes have been told to take extra precautions. Schools in some areas, including Nottinghamshire and Hampshire counties, have said they will remain closed on Monday, according to The Guardian. Other schools are set to close early before the afternoon heat kicks in.

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The predicted heater wave has also led to some hospitals canceling routine appointments and even surgeries as precaution, Sky News reported. “Many of the patients traveling to these appointments are frail and at increased risk, and due to the unpredictable nature of very high temperatures on demand for emergency care and on care environment,” said Milton Keynes University Hospital CEO Joe Harrison on Twitter, explaining the decision. Meanwhile, despite the warnings, deputy prime minister of the UK Dominic Raab said that while people should be careful, they should also try to “enjoy the sunshine.”

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A man enjoys the sun on his boat on the River Thames near Hammersmith in London, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Wildfires

Meanwhile, firefighters battled to contain wildfires sweeping across southwest Europe on Sunday as the heatwave showed no sign of abating.

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after a dry, hot spring that the European Union has attributed to climate change. Some countries are also experiencing extended droughts, while many are sweltering in heat waves. Blazes raging in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land and forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee.

It is the second heatwave to engulf parts of southwest Europe in weeks. Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather such as heatwaves and drought. Spanish authorities reported around 20 wildfires still raging out of control in different parts of the country from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where blazes have destroyed around 4,500 hectares of land.

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A firefighter reacts during an operation to control a forest fire near Louchats in Gironde, southwestern France, July 17, 2022. (Thiband Moritz/AFP)

The fires have already killed several emergency personnel since last week, most recently a fireman who died late on Sunday while battling a blaze in northwestern Spain. In France, the situation deteriorated in the southwestern Gironde region where firefighters were fighting to control forest blazes that have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) since Tuesday.

‘A heat apocalypse’

The wildfires in France forced more than 16,000 people — residents and tourists combined — to decamp. Seven emergency shelters have been set up for evacuees.

France’s interior ministry announced it would send an extra three firefighting planes, 200 firefighters and more trucks. Meteo France forecast temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of southern France on Sunday, with new heat records expected on Monday.

This photo provided by the fire brigade of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) shows a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France, July 16, 2022. (SDIS 33 via AP) “In some southwestern areas, it will be a heat apocalypse,” meteorologist Francois Gourand told AFP.

France placed 15 departments, mainly down its western seaboard, on red alert — the highest on the scale — on Sunday while 51 were on orange high alert. The chapel of a historic hospital in the southeastern city of Lyon, Grand Hotel Dieu, offered refuge to tourists on Sunday including Jean-Marc, 51, who was visiting from Alsace.

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“We came back to admire the place, but we can’t leave, it’s too hot outside. We say a prayer before the fire!” he quipped.

French cyclist Mikael Cherel, taking part in the Tour de France’s 15th stage between Rodez and Carcassonne in southern France on Sunday, described “very, very difficult conditions.” “I’ve never known such a hot day on a bike. It really was no picnic.”

A pharmacy sign displaying the temperature of 42,5?C in Toulouse, southern France, July 17, 2022. (Valentine Chapuis/AFP)

Organizers of a four-day march in the Netherlands canceled the first day of the mass event due to start on Tuesday because of extreme heat. The mercury is set to reach 38?C in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday. In Portugal, almost the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, after hitting 47?C — a record for the month of July — on Thursday.

Only one major fire was burning on Sunday in the north.

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The fires have killed two, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.

A firefighter helicopter flies over a wildfire near Bustelo village in Amarante, north of Portugal, July 16, 2022. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP)

Deaths

In Spain, firefighters managed to stabilize a wildfire that ravaged 2,000 hectares of woods and bushes in the southern region of Andalusia, regional leader Juan Manuel Moreno said. The blaze started on Friday in the Mijas mountain range inland from the southern coastal city of Malaga and it spurred the evacuation of about 3,000 people. Around 2,000 people had since returned home and now that the blaze has stabilized, Moreno said the remaining evacuees may do the same.

A fireman died from burns on Sunday while battling a blaze in Spain’s northwestern province of Zamora, the regional government said. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed his “condolences and affection” to the man’s family and colleagues. “There are no words to express thanks to those who fight fires without rest for their immense work.

RIP,” he added in a tweet. Sanchez is due to visit the hard-hit eastern region of Extremadura on Monday where various fires have been raging for days.

A wildfire is pictured in Sierra de Mijas mountain range in Malaga province on July 15, 2022. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP) The fireman’s death comes after a pilot was killed last week when his plane crashed in northern Portugal, and two crew members died in Greece when their helicopter fell into the sea.

The extreme heat also claimed the lives of two men in Spain over the weekend.

A 50-year-old man in Torrejon de Ardoz just outside of Madrid died on Sunday after suffering heat stroke while out for a walk, local emergency services said.

And on Saturday, a 60-year-old street cleaner in Madrid died after suffering heat stroke while working the previous day.