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Friday, February 3, 2023

Bordeaux fires rage and firefighting pilot killed in Portugal

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Strong winds and hot, dry weather are frustrating French firefighters’ efforts to contain a huge wildfire that raced across pine forests in the Bordeaux region on Saturday for a fifth straight day, one of several scorching Europe in recent days.

Some of the worst fires have been in Portugal, where the pilot of a firefighting plane died on Friday when his plane crashed on an operation in the north east.

It was the first fatality in fires in Portugal this year, which have injured more than 160 people and forced hundreds to be evacuated from towns this week.

Fire season has hit parts of Europe earlier than usual this year after an unusually dry, hot spring that authorities attribute to climate change.

Some 3,000 firefighters backed by water-dumping planes are battling blazes in southern France, the president said, and Greece sent firefighting equipment to help.

More than 11,000 people have been evacuated from villages and campgrounds.

Firefighters managed to contain one of the worst fires overnight, near the Atlantic coast resort of Arcachon that is popular with tourists from around Europe, the regional emergency service said on Saturday.

But it added that “tough meteorological conditions” thwarted efforts to contain the biggest fire in the region, which started in the town of Landiras, south of a valley of Bordeaux vineyards.

They are focusing efforts on using fire engines to surround villages at risk and save as many homes as possible, Charles Lafourcade, overseeing the firefighting operation, told reporters at the scene.

The two fires have burned at least 9,650 hectares (23,800 acres) of land in recent days.

A similar scene is playing out in Portugal, where more than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside ordinary citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions.

The country’s Civil Protection Agency said 10 fires were still burning on Friday.

Portuguese state television RTP reported on Friday that the area burned this year has already exceeded the total for 2021. More than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land has been burned, it said, most in the past week.

Across the border, Spain was struggling to contain several fires, including two that have burned about 7,400 hectares (18,200 acres).

In southern Andalusia, Spain, 3,000 people were evacuated from villages in danger from a blaze started near the village of Mijas in the province of Malaga. Around 200 firefighters supported by 18 aircraft tried to contain the fire. Authorities were investigating its cause.

For a sixth day, firefighters were also trying to bring under control a fire started by a lightning strike in the west-central Las Hurdes area. Some 400 people from eight villages were evacuated on Friday as the flames approached their houses and threatened to spread into nearby Monfrague National Park.

Croatia and Hungary have also fought wildfires this week, as have California and Morocco. Many European countries are facing exceptional heat this month also attributed to climate change.

Portuguese authorities said a July national high of 47C was registered in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday.

Temperature-related deaths have surged in Spain this week amid a heatwave that has kept temperatures above 40C in many areas.

According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records temperature-related fatalities daily, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10-14.

That was compared to 25 temperature-related deaths the previous week.

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