The rising temperatures are exacerbating more than 10,000 individual fires in Portugal which have burned more than 26,800 hectares (66,224 acres) of forest land across the country.
In Spain, the country’s southern regions have been sweltering in temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) since last week and have claimed an estimated eleven lives so far.
The most recent victims, a 32-year-old man and an 82-year-old woman who died of heat strokes in the southern cities of Cordoba and Jaen respectively, were discovered on Monday while a 78-year-old woman died of a circulatory failure brought on by the high temperatures on the Canary Island of Tenerife over the weekend.
In the Spanish capital, Madrid, temperatures have hit 39.3C (103F) – a 73-year high. The latest heat wave brings back memories of the extreme heat that swept through Europe last summer, killing thousands. Exceptionally hot weather killed at least 141 people in Spain last year.
France braces as bad memories return
In France, which was hardest hit last year in the heat wave that killed an estimated 15,000 people, President Jacques Chirac told his ministers Monday to keep their summer vacations short this year as fears of a repeat of last summer’s tragedy begin to circulate.
The bodies of the dead were stored in refrigerated makeshift morgues in paris.
The death of thousands of mostly elderly French citizens caused outrage as it was revealed that government ministers initially refused to cut short their holidays to respond to the extraordinary conditions in August 2003. The number of dead and increasing temperatures caused havoc and led to the use of makeshift insulated morgues across the French capital (photo).
Jean-Francois Mattei, who was health minister at the time, was eventually sacked in a cabinet reshuffle months after being seen on television in a t-shirt in his villa in south of France insisting that there was nothing to worry about at the beginning of the hot weather.
His replacement, Philippe Douste-Blazy, has promised that, he would return to Paris from his summer vacation “at the drop of a hat” if similar conditions look likely this summer. Jacques Chirac, however, will again be overseas this year. The French president failed to return from his vacation in Canada during last summer’s deadly heat wave.
Huge swathes of Portugal’s forests lost
Meanwhile hundreds of firefighters, backed by water trucks, helicopters and planes, continued to battle fires across Portugal on Monday. The tourist region of Faro on Portugal’s southern coast was hardest hit, with more than 150 firefighters working in mountains near the spa town of Monchique, a spokesman for the national emergency service said. It is the second consecutive year of extreme forest fires in Portugal. In 2003, huge fires destroyed 13 percent of its forests and woodlands and claimed 18 lives.
Firefighters also extinguished a major fire in the Arrabida Natural Park, 30 miles south of Lisbon on Monday. The fire in the park, which is home to protected species like the wildcat and the mongoose, was eventually put out after destroying over 900 hectares of wilderness. Several beaches in the area had to be evacuated on Sunday and remained closed to the public on Tuesday. There were no reports of injuries in any of the fires. EU neighbors on alert with aid
Greece is sending two planes to Portugal to fight the fires while Italy has put an aircraft on standby following the country’s plea for help, the EU Executive Commission said in a statement.
The high temperatures and strong dry winds have made it harder to control the many fires blazing all over the country. Weather forecasts say temperatures will remain high at least until Thursday.
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