Flames reach the beach as heat and wildfires rage across Europe

The fire in La Teste-de-Buch has forced more than 10,000 people to flee at a time when many typically flock to the nearby Atlantic coast area for vacation. French authorities have closed several spots to the public along that coast because of the fire, including La Lagune and Petit Nice beaches that the fire reached on Sunday, and Europe’s tallest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat.

The Gironde regional government said Sunday afternoon that “the situation remains very unfavorable” due to gusting winds that helped fan more flare-ups overnight.

A second fire near the town of Landiras has forced authorities to evacuate 4100 people this week. Authorities said that one flank has been brought under control by the dumping of white sand along a two-kilometre stretch. Another flank, however, remains unchecked.

People who were forced to flee shared worries about their abandoned homes with local media, and local officials organised special trips for some to fetch pets they had left behind in the rush to get to safety.

Overall, more than 100 square kilometres of land have burned in the two fires.

Emergency officials warned that high temperatures and winds Monday would complicate efforts to stop the fires from spreading further.

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“We have to stay very prudent and very humble, because the day will be very hot. We have no favourable weather window,” regional fire official Eric Florensan said Sunday on radio France-Bleu.

Some of the most worrisome blazes in Spain are concentrated in the western regions of Extremadura and Castilla y León. Images of plumes of dark smoke rising above wooded hills that have been baked under the sun have become common in several scarcely populated rural areas.

Drought conditions in the Iberian Peninsula have made it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Since last October, Spain has accumulated 25 per cent less rainfall than is considered normal — and some areas have received 75 per cent less than normal, the National Security Department said.

While some fires have been caused by lightning strikes and others the result of human negligence, a blaze that broke out in a nature reserve in Extremadura called La Garganta de los Infiernos, or “The Throat of Hell,” was suspected to be the result of arson, regional authorities said.

Firefighters have been unable to stop the advance of a fire that broke out near the city of Cáceres that is threatening the Monfragüe National Park and has kept 200 people from returning to their homes. Another fire in southern Spain near the city of Malaga has forced the evacuation of a further 2500 people.

The office of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that he will travel to Extremadura to visit some of the hardest-hit areas on Monday.

Hungary, Croatia and the Greek island of Crete have also fought wildfires this week, as have Morocco and California. Italy is in the midst of an early summer heat wave, coupled with the worst drought in its north in 70 years — conditions linked to a recent disaster, when a huge chunk of the Marmolada glacier broke loose, killing several hikers.

Scorching temperatures have even reached northern Europe. An annual four-day walking event in the Dutch city of Nijmegen announced Sunday that it would cancel the first day, scheduled for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to peak at around 39 degrees Celsius.

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

College of Paramedics Chief Executive Tracy Nicholls warned Sunday that the “ferocious heat” could “ultimately, end in people’s deaths.”

AP with Reuters

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