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Forest fires rage in scorching southwest Europe


Almost the whole of Portugal is on high alert for wildfires

Firefighters struggled to contain wildfires sweeping across southwest Europe on Sunday as a heatwave showed no sign of abating, with Britain poised to set new temperature records this coming week.

Blazes raging in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land, forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee and killed several emergency personnel since last week.

Firefighters in France’s southwestern Gironde region were fighting to control two forest blazes that have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) since Tuesday.

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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.

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.

“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.

The call comes after a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way at the start of the month, killing 11 people — a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

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.

The fire forced the evacuation of just over 3,000 people but around 2,000 people have since been allowed to return to their homes.

“We didn’t stop working all night,” regional agriculture minister Carmen Crespo told Spanish public television of efforts to quench the flames.

The eastern town of Don Benito recorded Spain’s highest temperature on Sunday, with the mercury hitting 43.4C.

The fight against the flames has also claimed the lives of a number of emergency personnel, including a pilot killed when his plane crashed in northern Portugal and two who died in Greece when their helicopter fell into the sea.

In Portugal, almost the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, after hitting 47C — a record for the month of July — on Thursday.

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

In the United Kingdom, the weather office issued a first-ever “red” warning for extreme heat, cautioning there was a “risk to life”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan advised people in the capital to use public transport only if “absolutely necessary”. National train operators also warned passengers to avoid travel.

The mercury is set to reach 38C in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday.

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