Sizzling Europe battles wildfires and deaths

A wildfire near Torre de l'Espanyol in Ribera d'Ebro, on the banks of the river Ebre in north-eastern Spain, yesterday. Spanish firefighters are struggling to douse wildfires across nearly 4,000ha in the north-eastern region of Catalonia. Temperature
A wildfire near Torre de l'Espanyol in Ribera d'Ebro, on the banks of the river Ebre in north-eastern Spain, yesterday. Spanish firefighters are struggling to douse wildfires across nearly 4,000ha in the north-eastern region of Catalonia. Temperatures have climbed towards 44 deg C in parts of northern Spain and southern France.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID/PARIS • As wildfires raged across Catalonia in Spain, the French authorities stepped up restrictions on water use and driving in cities as swathes of western Europe remained gripped by a powerful heatwave.

Temperatures climbed towards 44 deg C in parts of northern Spain and southern France, driving many people to seek relief in the sea, rivers and swimming pools.

Spanish firefighters struggled to douse wildfires across nearly 4,000ha in the north-eastern region of Catalonia. They said 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 80km inland from the coastal town of Tarragona. There were no reports of casualties, but the regional government said about 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 neighbouring France, the authorities extended restrictions on vehicles - already imposed in Paris and Lyon - to Marseille 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 also announced a ban on the transportation of animals.

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 yesterday that 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 Mr Jerome Saloman, head of national public health. "For us, the worst is still to come."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2019, with the headline 'Sizzling Europe battles wildfires and deaths'. Print Edition | Subscribe