Sizzling Europe Battles Wildfires, Health Risks

TARRAGONA, Spain/PARIS (Reuters) -
A smoke column is seen during a forest fire near La Granadella, west of Tarragona, Spain, Thursday. (Reuters/Albert Gea)

Wildfires raged across Catalonia, and French authorities stepped up restrictions on water use and driving in cities as swaths of Western Europe remained gripped in a powerful heatwave.

Temperatures climbed toward 110 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius) in parts of northern Spain and southern France, driving many people to seek relief in the sea, in rivers, lakes, fountains and swimming pools.

Spanish firefighters struggled to douse wildfires across nearly 4,000 hectares in the northeastern region of Catalonia. They warned that the affected area could increase as much as fivefold because of the intense heat and winds.

Helicopters dumped water on the fires, which raged some 50 miles inland from the coastal town of Tarragona. There were no reports of casualties, but the regional government said some 30 people had been evacuated from farmhouses in the area.

The wildfires are among the worst Catalonia has seen in 20 years, the regional government said.

In neighboring France authorities extended restrictions on vehicles, already imposed in Paris and Lyon, to Marseilles and Strasbourg in an effort to curb air pollution.

Some schools postponed summer examinations and parts of northern France were put on drought alert, with water supplies to businesses, farmers and ordinary residents restricted. Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume announced a ban on the transportation of animals until the heatwave has ended.

The Midi Libre newspaper reported that three people have died on beaches in the south of France so far this week because of the heat, though Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on Thursday it was too early to give an accurate estimate of the death toll.

“Calls to the emergency services are on the rise nationwide. We are seeing the beginning of a clear impact of the heatwave,” said Jerome Saloman, head of national public health. “For us the worst is still to come.”

There was at least relief for northern Germany on Thursday as temperatures slid to more normal levels for June. In Berlin it was 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), drastically down from around 98.6 F. (37 C.) on Wednesday.