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Wildfires rage in Portugal as punishing heat wave sweeps Europe

Temperatures are expected to rise to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) this week, experts warn

A man uses water from a hose to beat back a fire in Canecas, in the outskirts of Lisbon, on July 10. (Mario Cruz/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Several wildfires are raging across Portugal, where a state of emergency has been declared amid a punishing heat wave sweeping Europe, where temperatures are expected to climb even higher in the days to come.

As of Sunday, an estimated 3,000 firefighters were working to extinguish the blazes, Portugal’s civil protection agency said, with areas along the outskirts of Lisbon the hardest hit. At least 29 people have been injured since the fires broke out, local authorities said Sunday.

The European Commission said Monday that it had “mobilized its firefighting fleet to help Portugal fight destructive forest fires,” as residents evacuated their homes in danger zones.

Weather experts in Portugal say temperatures of up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) could be reported from Tuesday in Alentejo — the region between Lisbon and the Algarve, Sky News reported. Strong winds of 40 miles per hour are also predicted across several regions. Local media reported Monday that fires in the districts of Santarém, Leiria and Vila Real were “the most worrying.”

Forest fires are not uncommon in Portugal, a heavily forested country that is fanned by winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Spain, which has also experienced devastating wildfires in recent weeks, sent Portugal two firefighting planes on Sunday, as the European Union said it stood “ready to provide further assistance.”

Experts say extreme heat and unseasonably warm temperatures will only become more frequent and severe as the world grapples with the effects of human-caused climate change. Last month, a historic heat wave across Europe broke records in France and Spain, where temperatures reached as high as 104 degrees, unusual for the month of June.

Scientists have long warned that climate change is extending the “wildfire season” in Portugal from two to five months, the BBC reported. In 2017, more than 100 people died following blazes that led to widespread condemnation of the government’s response to forest fires. Some emergency workers complained of a lack of equipment, while others said the forests were not properly managed or protected.

The current nationwide state of emergency means people are barred from forest areas deemed high risk and that farmers are asked not to use any type of machinery that may cause a spark.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa took to Twitter over the weekend, writing, “PLEASE DO NOT START FIRES AND DO NOT USE MACHINES.”

The use of fireworks at celebrations and festivals has also been banned amid the high temperatures and drought, the Associated Press reported.

The fires came on quickly in some areas. “It was very sudden, a lot of smoke, all of a sudden the old house was lit,” one witness told the BBC on Monday.

In Spain last month, wildfires broke out near Valencia and across other parts of the country following days of extreme heat. In Italy, Rome recorded its highest temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 Celsius).

Poland and Austria were also hit by abnormally high temperatures as was Britain, a nation where air-conditioning is scarce — raising concerns for the elderly and the homeless.

Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, told The Washington Post that Britain was “really not prepared” for extreme heat, with offices, houses and nursing homes “not built to help keep people cool.”