Arid and ablaze, Europe battles deadly heat
LISBON, Aug 7, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Europe’s scorching heatwave has killed
nine people in a week in Spain, health authorities said Tuesday, as stifling
temperatures kindled wildfires in the country and neighbouring Portugal where
a ferocious blaze encircled a resort town.
Weeks of nonstop sunshine and near-record temperatures have caused droughts
and seen tinder-dry forests consumed by wildfires from the Mediterranean to
the Arctic Circle, in what many fear could be the region’s new normal in an
era of climate change.
The devastating effects of the heatwave were visible from space, according
to images of swathes of arid landscape taken by the German astronaut
Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station.
“After several weeks of night flying, I was able to take the first day
pictures of central Europe and Germany. The sight is shocking. Everything
that should be green is parched and brown,” Gerst said on Twitter.
– Resorts threatened –
Spain and Portugal approached record temperatures at the weekend, with the
mercury hitting 46.6 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) at El Granado in Spain
and 46.4 C in Alvega, Portugal, according to the World Meteorological
While the deadly hotspell is expected to ease in parts of western Europe in
the coming days, firefighters in Spain and Portugal struggled to contain
wildfires that have swept southern areas.
In the southern Portuguese holiday region, residents and tourists have been
evacuated from around an Algarve resort town as fire crews struggled to
extinguish wildfires that have raged for days leaving 30 people injured, one
Hundreds of firefighters and soldiers used helicopters and planes, as well
as several hundred vehicles, to douse the blaze around the mountain town of
Monchique as strong winds fanned the flames, with meteorologists warning of
“significant” gusts to come.
In the Valencia region of neighbouring Spain some 2,500 people were driven
from their homes overnight to escape flames that have already swept across
around 1,000 hectares, as fire crews struggled to bring the fires under
A spokesman for the regional health department in the southwestern region
of Extremadura, near Portugal, said a 66-year-old man and a 75-year-old woman
who died in recent days had both succumbed to heat stroke.
This brings to nine the number of people to have died as a direct
consequence of the heatwave.
– Heat moving east –
While parts of Western Europe are forecast to have a reprieve in the coming
days, the sweltering temperatures are expected to travel eastwards across the
“The same circulation pattern persists which brings hot air from North
Africa over Europe, but this whole system is now moving slowly to the east so
the western parts of the continent will get cooler air from the Atlantic,”
said WMO spokeswoman Sylvie Castonguay.
“This will relieve the situation in most countries in southwestern Europe,
while the hot weather conditions will spread further to Eastern Europe.”
– ‘Tropical’ Arctic –
Wildfires have sparked in parts of northern Europe, with blazes still
burning up to the Arctic Circle in Sweden, which sizzled in record
temperatures in July that also caused mountain top glaciers to melt,
according to the WMO.
The Arctic regions of Finland and Norway have been so hot that they have
experienced 12 “tropical” nights so far this year, with temperatures topping
– Dying wildlife –
Roughly a thousand kilogrammes (a tonne) of dead fish have been scooped
from rivers and lakes in Switzerland in recent days, as the heat raised water
“We have been watching dead fish for several days floating down the Rhine,”
Andreas Vogeli, an official with the hunting and fisheries department in
northern Schaffhausen canton, told the public broadcaster RTS.
The most severely affected area is the stretch of the Rhine river that runs
from Lake Constance to the Rhine Falls.
The cold-loving grayling, a member of the salmon family, can struggle when
water temperatures exceed 20 C, but certain areas of the Rhine have recorded
temperatures above 27 C in recent days.
In Britain, the sustained heat has seen a spike in cases of avian botulism
reported among wild waterbirds like swans and geese.
Botulism, a naturally occurring neurotoxin activated in warm weather by
bacteria in silt, is passed along to waterbirds through infected bugs,
causing paralysis. It is not contagious to humans.
“Many drown because they can not lift their heads out of the water,”
Melanie Nelson, a trustee at the Swan Sanctuary in southeast England, told
“Whole lakes are affected at a time meaning entire waterbird communities
become sick and die.”
Temperatures in southeast England were expected to climb to 30 C on Tuesday
before easing off for the rest of the week.