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A firefighter battling a blaze in south-west France. PA

France and Spain fight spreading wildfires as heatwave fries Europe

Towns are being evacuated in south-western France as thousands of firefighters tackle the flames.

LAST UPDATE | 18 Jul 2022

FRANCE HAS SCRAMBLED more water-bombing planes and hundreds more firefighters to combat spreading wildfires that were being fed by hot swirling winds from a searing heat wave broiling much of Europe.

In both France and Spain, fierce heat is fuelling blazes.

Passengers on a train that stopped unexpectedly in the Spanish countryside got a fright when they looked out of the window at wildfires encroaching on both sides of the track.

spain-wildfire-train Passengers take photos of wildfires from the train (Francisco Seoane Perez/AP) AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

Francisco Seoane, from Spain, told The Associated Press: “It was really scary to see how quickly the fire spread. Just in the blink of an eye, a new bush began burning. It was a matter of seconds.”

“It suddenly become night,” he added. “And we could even smell the smoke” inside the carriage.

Video of the unscheduled stop shows about a dozen passengers in Mr Seoane’s carriage becoming increasingly alarmed as they look out of the windows.

Flames licked at the vegetation, and smoke darkened the blue skies as the train drew to a halt on Monday morning in the province of Zamora, where blazes have charred large areas of woodland over recent days.

This province has recorded two deaths from wildfires in the past two days: a 69-year-old shepherd and a 62-year-old firefighter trapped in the flames.

With no passenger announcements coming over the train’s public address system, Mr Seoane said passengers became agitated and began to stand up in the aisle.

An Adif spokeswoman told AP that no passengers were in danger.

More than 30 forest fires around Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and blackened some 54,300 acres over the past week.

Authorities in south-western France have announced plans to evacuate more towns and move out 3,500 people at risk of finding themselves in the path of the flames as winds change direction.

Three additional water-bombing planes were joining six others already making repeated runs over the flames and dense clouds of smoke, the French interior ministry said.

It added that more than 200 reinforcements were also being added to the 1,500-strong force of firefighters battling night and day to contain the blazes which are devastating the Gironde region’s tinder-dry pine forests and sending burning embers into the air, spreading the flames even further.

Heatwaves and drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Scientists say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

According to Spain’s Carlos III Institute, which records daily temperature-related fatalities, 237 deaths were attributed to high temperatures from July 10 to 14. This was compared to 25 temperature-related deaths the previous week.

The heatwave in Spain is forecast to ease tomorrow, but the respite will be brief as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, especially in the tinder-dry western Extremadura region.

In Portugal, much cooler weather today helped fire crews make progress against blazes. More than 600 firefighters were attending four major fires in northern Portugal.

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