A wildfire fuelled by gale-force winds raged in mountains near Athens on Wednesday, forcing hundreds including hospital patients to evacuate, as Britain counted the cost of its hottest ever day.
Wildfires have ravaged Europe this month, breaking out in Greece, France, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Portugal and fuelled by increasingly hot and dry weather that scientists link to climate change.
Thick clouds of smoke darkened the sky over Mount Penteli 27 km (16 miles) north of Greece’s capital, where close to 500 firefighters, 120 fire engines and 15 water-carrying planes tried to contain the flames.
The blaze, which broke out on Tuesday afternoon, continued to burn on several fronts on Wednesday.
Authorities said they evacuated nine settlements. One hospital and the National Observatory of Athens were also evacuated and police helped at least 600 residents out of fire-stricken areas.
“It was a difficult night,” said Fire Department spokesperson Yiannis Artopios in a televised statement, adding that wind speeds exceeded 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour. Strong winds were forecast to persist until Wednesday afternoon.
“Due to the intensity and speed of the winds, the fire constantly changed direction throughout the night,” he said.
Last year, wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.
In France, where firefighters in the southwestern Gironde region have been battling since July 12 to contain huge forest fires, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said more money needed to be invested to tackle such threats.
“We are having to confront a quite exceptional situation,” he said, referring to damage caused in Brittany and southern France. President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit the Gironde region on Wednesday.
In Britain, firefighters worked through the night to damp down wildfires and engineers raced on Wednesday to fix train tracks that buckled in the heat as residents woke up to the aftermath of a day when temperatures topped 40C for the first time.
“This is a reminder today, I think, of the importance of tackling climate change because this is a remarkable unprecedented event,” Treasury Minister Simon Clarke said.
The London Fire Brigade endured its busiest day since World War Two on Tuesday as fires destroyed dozens of properties in the capital and sent flames racing through tinderbox-dry grassland at the sides of railway tracks and roads.
Trains running from London up the east coast of England were cancelled at least until midday on Wednesday after a fire near the city of Peterborough in central England damaged signalling equipment. Other fires on the network damaged tracks and overhead lines.
The weather also played havoc with transportation networks in Germany, where water levels on the river Rhine fell further, navigation authorities said on Wednesday. That was forcing cargo vessels to sail with significantly reduced loads and hampering shipping on the entire river in Germany south of Duisburg, they said.
Fire brigades in Tuscany battled a wildfire on Wednesday that forced hundreds to evacuate and caused gas tanks to explode, as smoke from a blaze in northeast Italy forced shipbuilder Fincantieri FCT.MI to shut down a 3,000-staff plant.
Wildfires have broken out in several parts of Italy this week as temperatures keep rising.
Nine cities were on the country’s highest heatwave alert, which warns of serious health risks linked to the weather, up from five on Tuesday. The total will rise to 14 on Thursday, including Rome, Milan and Florence.
Temperatures are expected to hit 40C across a swathe of the north and centre this week, as well as in the southern heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
On Wednesday, in Tuscany, a fire that broke out on Monday evening continued to burn near the town of Lucca, having already destroyed some 560 hectares (2.15 square miles) of woods.
It forced around 500 people to evacuate as the flames raged through the night reaching some villages and causing the explosion of some liquified gas tanks, the region’s governor Eugenio Giani said on Twitter. “Some fronts have strengthened because of the wind,” he added.
In the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region, residents were urged to stay indoors because of heavy smoke from a wildfire that started on Tuesday in the Carso area bordering Croatia and Slovenia.
The fire prompted state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri to close down its plant in the port city of Monfalcone.
FACTBOX – Wildfires breaking out across the world
(Uljin county)- The fire that broke out on March 4 in the eastern coastal county of Uljin, near the Hanul Nuclear Power Plant, spread across the nearby city of Samcheo, consuming more than 14,800 acres, destroying at least 159 houses and urging 6,200 people to evacuate the area, according to a report by the Associated Press.
South Korea President Moon Jae-in ordered an all-out efforts to be made to protect the Hanul Nuclear Power Plant from a wildfire.
(Northern region/Taza) – Several fires started erupting from July 13 in the provinces of Larache, Ouezzane and Tetouan, in the North of the country and in the South-East province of Taza. Nearly 4,000 acres of forest were consumed by the flames, which damaged many homes, and killed one person, as reported by France24.
The fires forced 1,100 people to flee 15 villages in Larache, while 645 residents were evacuated from Taza and Tetouan, according to the media.
(Gironde)- Two fires have blazed in France’s southwestern Gironde region since June 12, one along the Atlantic Coast, the other around the town of Landiras south of Bordeaux.
The fires, fuelled by dryness and temperatures as high as 42.6 degree Celsius, have burned around 47,700 acres, as of July 19. About 34,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the area.
(Zamora)- Fuelled by record-breaking heat wave, the fire started on June 15, in the province of Zamora. Flames scorched at least 61,000 acres and more than 6,000 people were evacuated from 32 villages in the area. Two persons have died and three others were critically injured.
(Sierra Bermeja)- A fire started June 8 in Malaga province, on the slope of Pujerra mountain in Sierra Bermeja. It ravaged 8,600 acres of woods and bushes, forced evacuation of 2,000 people from the nearby town of Benahavis, and injured three firefighters. The flames are now stabilised. Read full story
(Mugla) – A wildfire broke out on July 13 near the town of Marmaris, in the Aegean province of Mugla, and spread through the woodlands in the sparsely populated area. About 17 houses and nearly 1,800 acres of land were ravaged. Some 450 houses and 3,530 people were evacuated.
(Murca) – A wildfire started on July 17 in the Murca municipality, in northern Portugal, and spread towards Vila Pouca de Aguiar and Carrazedo de Montenegro.
The blaze has affected roughly 14,800 acres, according to the EU’s Earth Observation Programme Copernicus. An elderly couple was found dead inside a burned-out car.
(Ourem) – Several wildfires broke out on July 7 in the Leiria and Santarem districts, in the Ourém municipality. Over 7,413.1 hectares have burned and authorities have blocked major motorways and side streets as strong winds made it harder for firefighters to fight the flames. Portugal’s most important highway was also blocked due to another fire farther north. Read full story
(California – Yosemite National Park)- Fire erupted on July 8 in part of California’s Yosemite National Park, home of some of the largest and oldest giant sequoia trees in the world. Flames consumed 3,772 acres according to a report by InciWeb, a U.S. interagency all-risk incident information management system, as per July 13.
None of Yosemite’s landmark sequoias had been lost as of July 11.
(Arizona)- The so-called Pipeline Fire, which erupted on April 17, in the Coconino National Forest, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, and the Lack Bill Park, north Flagstaff city, in Arizona.
The fire burned more than 20,000 acres and prompted the mandatory evacuation order of more than 2,100 homes.
(New Mexico) – The merger between the Hermits Peak Fire in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains in San Miguel County, and the Calf Canyon Fire, in the east of Santa Fe, constitutes the New Mexico’s largest blaze to date. Each fire started on April 6 and April 19, respectively, and burned 341,735 acres as of July 15, according to a report by Santa Fe National Forest Services. The flames are now contained at 93%.
(California – Big Sur) – The rare winter blaze, dubbed the Colorado Fire, burned 1,050 acres south of Monterey and just north of the area known as Big Sur in California, from Jan. 21 to Jan. 24. It forced about 500 people under evacuation orders and shut a major highway. Read full story
(British Columbia)- A blaze broke out on July 14 near the village of Lytton, in British Columbia. It is the most significant wildfire in the province so far this year, according to BC Wildfire Service.
The day after the fire broke out, nearly 2,000 acres were burned. Local authorities issued evacuation orders to 24 property owners close to the fire, while residents of several First Nation reserves were told to flee the area.
(Corrientes) – The Corrientes wildfires, in the Corrientes province, near Paraguay’s borders, broke out on February 7, and ravaged about 2,223,948 acres of forest and pasture land, some 12% of the region.
The blazes displaced or killed several wild animals such as capybaras, maned wolves, alligators, marsh deer and other species.
NOTE: In this context, a fire is considered “extreme” after burning 1,000 acres or more.