Raging wildfires forced the evacuation of holiday villages in Greece on Monday as Europe braced for record temperatures and meteorologists warned that the deadly heat wave was likely to extend into August.
With fires still burning on La Palma in the Canary Islands, where more than 4,000 people were evacuated on Sunday, two separate blazes ignited near Athens on Monday forced hundreds of children to flee a camp summer and villagers forced to abandon their homes.
With high winds, the inferno in Kouvaras – a town just 17 miles from the Greek capital – exceeded three seven miles in two hours, with television footage showing several houses and cars destroyed by the fire and thick white smoke billowing fall from burning vegetation.
A man was arrested on suspicion of arson, and hundreds of firefighters, soldiers and volunteers battled the blaze. Fifty-five miles away, near the seaside resort of Loutraki, about 1,200 children from a summer camp and residents of a rehabilitation center were evacuated.
The fire alert level was also raised in Athens and much of southern Greece, mirroring the picture across Spain, with countries further from the Mediterranean – including North Macedonia and Kosovo – issuing extreme heat alerts.
“I have never felt heat like this in my life in Pristina,” said Artan Kelani, a 22-year-old student, in the Kosovo capital, where it reached 34.4C on Monday.
The World Meteorological Organization has warned that the heat will only rise by the middle of the week, and North Africa’s anti-cyclone Charon – named after the Greek mythological ferryman of the dead – could set new national records as temperatures soar. well over 45C in parts of Italy, Spain and Greece.
In Italy, the health ministry has urged regions to beef up house call services so that the elderly do not have to fight the heat to receive medical care, and to set up dedicated heating stations in hospitals to treat emergency cases.
In Rome, where the mercury was set to hit 42C on Tuesday, volunteers and water company officials planned to be on hand to guide sweltering tourists and locals to fountains and distribute bottled water at dozens of locations. throughout the city, including the Colosseum.
With temperatures already at 39C on Monday, parts of the Italian capital were hit by power outages, as electrical grids sputtered under heavy demand from air conditioners, and in rural areas, Italian farming lobby group Coldiretti said cows were under stress producing 10 percent less. milk because of the heat.
“The hot air bubble that has inflated across southern Europe has turned Italy and the surrounding countries into a giant pizza oven,” said Professor Hannah Cloke, from the University of Reading.
“The warm air pushing in from Africa is now waiting, and high pressure conditions have set in which means the heat in the warm sea, land and air continues to build.”
In Spain, the wildfire that started on Saturday on La Palma continued to get out of control, having destroyed 460 square kilometers – an area larger than Glasgow.
But authorities said weaker winds and cooler temperatures were helping firefighters battle it, and the 4,000 previously evacuated residents were allowed to begin returning to their homes late Sunday.
Europe was not the only one facing record heat, however, with historic temperatures to be broken in the United States and China, which both resumed negotiations on Monday over action to curb climate change through emissions reduce methane and coal power.
Professor Cloke warned that the simultaneous events were evidence that terrifying computer simulations had now arrived.
“It’s no surprise that different parts of the northern hemisphere experience heat waves during the summer months, but the combined picture looks like climate change impacts will be happening at the same time, as scientists have predicted for years,” she said.
We are living through these impacts now, rather than predicting them in a computer simulation of the future climate.
“Sea level rise, melting ice, extreme heat waves, heavy rains, wildfires, droughts and floods are growing in many parts of the world at the same time. In previous heatwaves, such as the hot British summer of 1976, other parts of the world had a relatively cool year. Today’s weather extremes are gradually throwing everything everywhere at the same time.”
Additional reporting from agencies