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WEATHER

France, Spain to get reprieve from heatwave but Germany swelters on

A welcome dip in temperatures came to parts of Europe on Sunday, bringing relief to areas which have roasted through a widespread, deadly heatwave for nearly a week.

France, Spain to get reprieve from heatwave but Germany swelters on
Children play next to a water atomizer in Strasbourg, eastern France. Photo: AFP

Hot-weather warnings were lifted across north and west France, days after the country posted all-time high temperatures as it sizzled along with Italy, Spain and some central European nations.

Six days of intense heat fuelled huge blazes and pollution peaks, and officially claimed four lives in France, two in Italy and another two in Spain, including a 17-year-old harvest worker, a 33-year-old roofer and a 72-year-old homeless man.

The mercury was set to start dropping for France and Spain from Sunday, but still rise in Germany, with temperatures as high as 39 degrees Celsius in some places before cooling down from Monday.

On Saturday night in Spain, firefighters were battling high flames in strong winds and blistering heat soon after they managed to contain another inferno in nearly 72 hours.

A fire that started Friday in the central Spanish town of Almorox burnt at least 1,600 hectares, spilling over into the Madrid region and forcing the evacuation of a village, emergency services said.

In France, fires have razed about 600 hectares and dozens of houses in the Gard department in the country's south.

This is the same region where a new French record of 45.9 degrees Celsius was set Friday, prompting the Meteo France weather service to issue its highest alert level of red for the first time.

Winegrowers in the south of France said their precious crops have been badly burnt.

“Some vines seem to have been hit with a blowtorch,” Jerome Despey said, while Catherine Bernard likened it to the effects of a hairdryer.

“I've been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burnt by a sudden onset of heat like yesterday,” Despey added.

France is the seventh European country to ever register a plus 45-degree temperature, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said.

France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003 in which nearly 15,000 people were estimated to have died.

“I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens — there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

Meteorologists point to a blast of hot air from northern Africa for the scorching early European summer.

Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such heatwaves more frequent.

In Germany, the national weather service said temperatures were more than four degrees higher in June than an international reference period of 1981-2010.

The stifling heat caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.

In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, authorities have banned the most polluting cars from the roads in recent days.

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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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