Forest fires in Europe rage, tragic harbinger of the future of climate change.
Broken heat records in France contributed to raging forest fires in the southwest of the country, forcing over 31,000 people to evacuate in the Gironde region in the past week.
“The fire is literally exploding,” said Marc Vermeulen, the regional fire service chief describing tree trunks shattering as flames reached them, sending burning fragments far and wide to further spread the fire. Nine planes are there fighting fires, and over 1500 firefighters. Flames are closing in on thousand-year-old vineyards, which may mean irreplaceable losses are on the smoky horizon.
In Spain, more than 30 forest fires have also evacuated thousands, and 220 square kilometers have burned. Two people died, including a firefighter who got trapped by fire in the Zamora province. A train also was stopped by fires, and passengers had to be evacuated through a frightening burning scene.
According to climate scientists, more frequent and intense heat waves make wildfires more likely to happen, more destructive when they happen, and harder to fight.
“Climate change kills,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the site of three major blazes. “It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Even apart from the forest fires in Europe, the current heat wave in the EU is deadly. At least 748 people have been reported dead of heat-related causes in Spain and Portugal this month, while temperatures reached 117 F. In France, temperatures reached records in dozens of towns, including 103 F in temperate Brittany and 106 F near Luxembourg.
In Britain, which hasn’t yet seen any major wildfires this year, is facing an all-time high of over 104 F, or 40 C.
“Forty-one isn’t off the cards,” said Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby. “We’ve even got some 43s in the model, but we’re hoping it won’t be as high as that.”