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Burning up

Meteorologists across Europe have warned that the longer the heat wave, the greater the repercussions in terms of forest fires and people’s health.

Statesman News Service |

Swathes of Europe, most particularly France and Greece, are battling wildfires, a direly destructive phenomenon that had wrecked Brazil a couple of years ago. In part, the factor responsible is arguably the warming of the globe. The wildfires have destroyed more than 22,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of 12,000 people. The scourge is humanitarian or nearly so. For all the hi-falutin platitudes at the periodic climate change meetings, the fundamental factor is the abnormal heatwave that has gripped parts of the continent and threatens to register record-breaking temperatures in Britain very shortly. It is a measure of the enormity of the crisis that more than 1200 firefighters have been deployed at Gironde, near the city of Bordeaux. Firefighters are currently battling dozens of blazes in Greece, Portugal and Spain ~ countries that have faced unusually high temperatures.

“We are going through an exceptionally harsh season,” is the lament of President Emmanuel Macron. In comparison to 2020, France already has three times more burned forests. Meteorologists across Europe have warned that the longer the heat wave, the greater the repercussions in terms of forest fires and people’s health. The mortality rate in Portugal is frightfully high. According to the country’s health ministry, there were as many as 238 “excess deaths” in the country from July 7 to 13 during a period of high temperatures. Portugal’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, said over the weekend that the pilot of a firefighting plane was killed when the aircraft crashed in the north-eastern part of the country. In Greece, firefighters fought more than 50 blazes, the largest on the island of Crete and in the Saronikos region, south-east of the country’s capital, Athens.

Fears that the heat wave might hit Britain early next week are not wholly unfounded. Still more alarming must be the forecast that temperatures are likely to cross 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. In a country not exactly accustomed to such heat, workers were spreading grit on the roads, fearing they would melt without protection. In the manner of the Covid pandemic, authorities of schools said that they “would move classes remotely”. Transport for London, the city’s transit agency, urged people not to travel frequently not the least because rail tracks could bend or buckle in the heat. Cobra, the British government’s top emergency committee, is planning to hold an emergency meeting this Saturday to discuss the response to the extreme weather. The highest temperature officially recorded in Britain was 38.7 degrees Celsius in January 2019, normally when winter is at its peak.

Climate scientists have said thaglobal warming is “making extreme temperatures more common”, but they are investigating whether what they call “specific weather events” are intensifying or becoming more likely because of humaninduced warming of the climate. Which succinctly is the reason for the wildfires and the heat wave across Europe. Nature is at the core of the crisis. Unlike in Brazil, where the industrial lobby was blamed for the forest fires, the quirky compulsion to acquire land is scarcely relevant in France and further afield in the continent of Europe.