Wildfires: Europe pools its resources to battle blazes

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Wildfires continue to burn across Europe, leaving devastated communities behind in their wake and displacing thousands of people. 

Greece and Spain have been hit particularly hard recently, with fires taking hold in Megara, west of Athens, and Avila, northwest of Madrid.

But some of the 11,000 people evacuated because of the fires in Spain began returning home, and a major highway in the northwestern Zamora province reopened after two days.

Greek authorities had initially struggled against some of the blazes due to changing wind directions, but now say they have contained the fire.

Amid cooling temperatures on Thursday, there were no further outbreaks reported in Portugal.

French firefighters also say they had contained two major blazes in the country’s southwestern Gironde region, which had forced more than 36,000 people to evacuate.

Officials said they will probably be able to declare the fires completely extinguished within weeks.

Many European countries have been experiencing extreme heat, with some registering record-breaking temperatures. In Britain temperatures this week reached +40.2°C, which shattered the previous record of +38.7°C set in 2019.

Heat records were also broken across parts of Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany as the heatwave moved from west to east and further north. 

This summer, the European Union’s 27 nations have been pooling resources to cope with the scale of the fires. 

Slovenia was the latest to benefit from the new cooperative approach, with Italian water-dropping planes from Austria joining local firefighters to help battle a blaze in the Kras area, where three villages have been evacuated.

In Poland, the authorities issued heat warnings for many parts of the country, with temperatures as high as 36.7°C in the western town of Kornik.

2022 on course for EU wildfires record

According to the European monitoring service, recent forest fires have already affected more EU land than in the whole of 2021.

A total of 517,881 hectares have been burned since the start of the year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

Despite numerous forest fires in Italy and Greece last year, just 470,359 hectares of land were destroyed in 2021.

The EFFIS has warned that 2022 could surpass the worst year on record for forest fires in the bloc in 2017 when nearly 990,000 hectares of land were burned.

Climate scientists say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive unless governments take decisive action to stop it.

“The climate crisis is now evident across Europe, with particular intensity in the wider Mediterranean region,” Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said on Thursday.

“Europe must act in a coordinated and rapid manner to reverse the climate crisis. The solution cannot be given at a national level, because the problem is transnational and huge.”