Southwest Europe baked under sweltering temperatures on Friday for a fifth day, with the heat sparking devastating wildfires, forcing the evacuations of thousands and ruining holidays.
Armies of firefighters battled blazes in France, Portugal and Spain as Britain braced for ‘extreme heat’ in coming days and even Irish forecasters predicted a taste of blistering Mediterranean-style summer temperatures.
As French President Emmanuel Macron vowed authorities would do everything to mobilise resources to fight the fallout, the Bordeaux public prosecutor indicated a ‘criminal’ origin was its main line of inquiry for at least one fire near the southwestern city.
The furnace engulfing swathes of southwest Europe is the second in weeks, with scientists blaming climate change and predicting more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather.
Some of the worst fires have been in Portugal, where the pilot of a firefighting plane died on Friday when his plane crashed while on an operation in the north east.
In Portugal, five regions in the centre and north – where temperatures hit a July record 47 Celsius on Thursday before dropping back – were on red alert again Friday as more than 2,000 firefighters tackled four major blazes.
Spain was struggling to contain several fires, including two that have burned about 7,400 hectares or 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.
A helicopter pours water into the flames of a forest fire in Mijas, near Malaga in southern Spain
A firefighter pictured yesterday tackling a forest fire yesterday around the village of Eiriz in Baiao in the north of Portugal
A fire in south eastern France covered 1,000 hectares and burnt through at least 300 hectares of the Montagnette forest south of Avignon (pictured: a firefighter works to put out the blaze yesterday)
Several hundred firefighters struggled yesterday to contain two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwest France that forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and ravaged more than 7,000 hectares of land
High temperatures and strong winds have complicated firefighting efforts in south western France
A helicopter is pictured from Alhaurin de la Torre over a wildfire in Sierra de Mijas mountain range in Malaga
The Gironde area of southwestern France is in the grip of two wildfires with over 10,000 hectares already burned
The Gironde Fire and Rescue Departmental Service submitted this image of the wildfire in Landiras, southwestern France
Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes in southwestern France after days of wildfires
Holidaymakers to the region have also abandoned their visits due to the extreme weather conditions
A plane that was battling forest fires in the Braganca region crashed on Friday near Vila Nova de Foz Coa in northern Portugal, killing its pilot, the civil defence said.
As of late Thursday, the fires had killed one person and injured around 60. Nearly 900 people had been evacuated and several dozen homes damaged or destroyed, authorities said.
Wildfires have destroyed 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of land this year, the largest area since Portugal’s horrific summer of 2017 when around 100 people died.
Portuguese authorities said a July national high of 47C was registered in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday.
In neighbouring Spain, where temperatures were as high as 37C by 7am, a fire that broke out Thursday near the Monfrague National Park, a protected area renowned for wildlife in the Extremadura region, continued to blaze.
Spanish authorities reported close to 20 fires still raging out of control with one near Mijas in the deep south, inland from regional capital Malaga, forcing some 2,300 people to evacuate their homes.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted he was ‘closely following the evolution of active fires’ posing an ‘extreme risk’.
Regional authorities in Mijas (pictured) near Malaga, southern Spain, activated the first level of the Emergency Plan for Forest Fire Emergencies yesterday as the blaze was been spreading since noon
Local people look at the flames burning trees surrounding Ancede village during a wildfire in the municipality of Baiao,in northern Portugal
A helicopter works on containing a wildfire during the second heatwave of the year in the vicinity of Guadapero, Spain
A firefighter fights the flames surrounding Ancede village during a wildfire in the municipality of Baiao, northern Portugal
A helicopter pours water into the flames of a forest fire in Mijas, southern Spain
A view of trees burning amid a wildfire near Landiras in southwestern France
The mercury reached 45.4C in Spain on Thursday, shy of the all-time high of 47.4C registered in August last year.
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.
In southwestern France, flames have destroyed some 7,700 hectares since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 11,000 people – including many holidaymakers who decided to abandon their vacation rather than remain in makeshift shelters set up by local authorities.
Southern France, battling temperatures around 40C on Friday, is bracing for more heat next week with 16 departments already on orange, a severe alert.
Across the Mediterranean, authorities said one person was found dead in northern Morocco as forest fires raged. Authorities also evacuated hundreds of people from more than a dozen villages in northwestern Morocco.
One fire was raging in pine forests near France’s Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune and a magnet for tourists.
‘I’ve never seen this before and you get the feeling that it’s post-apocalyptic,’ said resident Karyn on Thursday shortly before the preventative evacuation order at Cazaux village near the dune.
In southwestern France, flames have destroyed some 7,700 hectares since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 11,000 people
Many holidaymakers in southwestern France decided to abandon their vacation rather than remain in makeshift shelters set up by local authorities (pictured: a wildfire near Landiras in southwestern France yesterday)
A tree burned by a wildfire in Tarascon, southeastern France, where 300 hectares of forest was destroyed
The tree eventually came tumbling down and its branches burned in the Montagnette forest
Firefighters work to put out a wildfire, which left a vast swathe of scorched earth in the Avignon region
This image shows the charred vegetation after the passage of a wildfire near Graveson, south of Avignon in southeastern Franc
Flames are seen during a wildfire, amid the second heatwave of the year, in Casas de Miravete in western Spain
A wild boar runs through charred grasslands after a wildfire in the vicinity of Casas de Miravete, Caceres, in western Spain
Fire commander Laurent Dellac spoke of ‘tunnels of fire’ around Teste-de-Buch, in the middle of the Landes forest to Bordeaux’s southwest – although nobody was reported hurt.
‘The blazes are still not under control, and unfortunately conditions are windy again,’ firefighter spokesman Matthieu Jomain told AFP.
Britain’s meteorological agency meanwhile issued its first ever ‘red’ warning for exceptional heat with nights exceptionally warm.
The Met Office said there was a 50 percent chance on Monday or Tuesday of temperatures topping 40C for the first time, and an 80 percent chance that the country’s previous record of 38.7C set in 2019 will be exceeded.
UK hospitals have warned of a surge in heat-related admissions and train operators have told passengers to expect cancellations.
The Irish meteorological office issued a weather warning for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with ‘exceptionally warm weather’.
A restaurant destroyed by flames due to a wildfire spreading in the area close to the beach of Cazaux lac, near La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France
Firefighters tackle a forest fire around the village of Eiriz in Baiao, northern Portugal
A fire and rescue officer struggles to put out the forest blaze in Baiao, northern Portugal
The region of Baiao in northern Portugal was left was huge areas of scorched earth and ruined vegetation after yesterday’s wildfire
A high of 32C was possible on Monday, Met Eireann said, just short of Ireland’s record high 33.3C set in 1887.
Belgian authorities said they expected much higher temperatures next week, with a high of 38C in parts of the country forecast for Tuesday.
Scientists blame the increasing regularity of heatwaves on global warming.
‘Climate change is driving this heatwave, just as it is driving every heatwave now,’ said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
‘Greenhouse gas emissions, from burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, are making heatwaves hotter, longer-lasting and more frequent,’ she said.
Oxford University students run for their lives as terrifying wildfire surrounds their Algarve villa
Seven terrified university friends had to run for their lives as a wildfire reached their Algarve villa. Ash was falling into the pool as they frantically crammed into a car and escaped the furious flames closing in on them.
The friends – including 22-year-old Millie Farley from Wombourne – had jetted off for a week in the Portuguese sunshine to celebrate their time at the University of Oxford coming to an end. But things took a dramatic turn in the early hours of Thursday morning on July 14.
Wildfires had been raging about 1-2km from their Airbnb villa, near Quinto Verde, for most of the day. Millie told BirminghamLive they’d been worried about sleeping through the night so had set an alarm for 3am to keep a lookout – a decision that potentially saved their lives.
The friends had jetted off for a week in the Portuguese sunshine to celebrate the end of their time at the University of Oxford
When the alarm went off, they checked outside and could see a ‘very small, seemingly insignificant bonfire-like fire’ about 100m away. Millie said: ‘We decided to stay up and keep an eye on it to make sure that it was nothing to be concerned about.
‘After about 20 minutes of anxious waiting, we stood up to head back outside. The image that greeted me when I pulled back the curtains to open our patio door is something that will haunt me for a long time – flames were literally less than 2m from my window, ash was falling into the pool and the sky was lit up in a fiery orange glow.’
She continued: ‘It was genuinely terrifying. We screamed to wake everyone up and grabbed our passports as we ran out of the front door to the car. Without hesitating we drove at rapid speeds down the lane, seven of us crammed into a little Fiat Panda.’
As they sped off, Millie said they were so worried that the fire would block the path, our only exit to the main road. ‘Luckily we sped out just in time,’ she said. ‘The fire spread rapidly behind us, burning down trees and bushes in its path.’
Outside they saw a ‘very small, seemingly insignificant bonfire-like fire’ about 100m away
Millie Farley, 22 from Wombourne said: ‘ flames were literally less than 2m from my window, ash was falling into the pool and the sky was lit up in a fiery orange glow.’
Around two hours later, the friends were told it was safe to return to the villa and collect their things. While one of the group decided to call it a day and flew home shortly after the morning’s dramatic events, the six remaining friends arranged alternative accommodation in Faro before flying home on Friday July 15.
Millie, who studied modern languages, said: ‘There was no water or electricity as the wires were burnt through, but we could pack our cases and leave. The surroundings of the villa were completely blackened and the ground was still smouldering – we could barely breathe through the smoke.
‘To be honest, we could have probably stayed in the same villa because it wasn’t physically damaged from the fire and the groundskeeper was going to fix the wires. For us it was more the traumatic experience that prevented us from returning, the area is dry and barren – it’s a disaster waiting to happen.’
A number of celebrities have also been caught up in the wildfires. Former Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne tweeted to say he’d been forced to flee his mansion during what he described as a ‘terrible day in the Algarve’.
Rebecca Vardy, is also believed to be holidaying with her children in Portugal. She shared a video of a helicopter carrying water on her Instagram story with the caption ‘these guys are incredible’.