A deadly heat wave in Western Europe has triggered intense wildfires, disrupted transportation and displaced thousands of people as the continent grapples with the impact of climate change.
The record-breaking heat is forecast to grow more severe this week and has prompted concerns over infrastructure problems such as melting roads, widespread power outages and warped train tracks.
Several areas in France have experienced record-breaking temperatures that approached or surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the national weather forecaster. In Britain, where few homes have air conditioning, the highest temperature has also reached nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, falling just below the national record.
Firefighters operate at the site of a wildfire in Pumarejo de Tera near Zamora, northern Spain, on June 18, 2022.
Cesar Manso | AFP | Getty Images
At least five countries in Europe have declared states of emergency or red warnings as wildfires, fueled by the hot conditions, burn across France, Greece, Portugal and Spain. In the past week, more than 31,000 people have been displaced from their homes because of blazes in the Gironde region of Southwestern France.
Climate change has made heat waves and droughts more common, intense and widespread. Dry and hot conditions also exacerbate wildfires, which have grown more destructive in recent years. And lower nighttime temperatures that typically provide critical relief from the hot days are disappearing as the Earth warms.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said Monday that he had visited areas impacted by wildfires in the western region of Extremadura. “Climate change kills people, our ecosystem and what is most precious to us,” Sánchez said.
Tourists fill the Levante beach in Benidorm to quench high temperatures as a heatwave sweeps across Spain on July 16, 2022 in Benidorm, Spain.
Zowy Voeten | Getty Images
At least 350 people have died in Spain from high temperatures during the past week, according to estimates by Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute. In Portugal, health officials said that nearly 240 people died in the first half of July due to the high temperatures, which reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit earlier in the month.
In the U.K., train service was limited amid concerns that the rails would buckle in the heat. The U.K. Met Office, for the first time ever, issued a red warning for heat, its most extreme alert. And Wales recorded its highest-ever temperature of 98.8 Fahrenheit on Monday, according to Britain’s national weather service.
An aerial view shows boats in the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, in Les Brenets on July 18, 2022.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
Flights were also delayed and disrupted into and out of Luton Airport in London after a defect was identified on the runway surface due to extreme temperatures, according to the airport. Temperatures had reached 94 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday in north London and were forecast to rise on Tuesday.
As people across Europe endured the heat, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning to leaders from 40 nations gathered in Berlin to discuss climate change response measures as part of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.
“Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction,” Guterres said in a video message to the leaders on Monday.
—The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Beachgoers react, as smoke produced by wildfires in La Teste-de-Buch forest billows, Arcachon, France, July 18, 2022.
Pascal Rossignol | Reuters