More than 700 firefighters battle wildfires in Portugal as Europe swelters in heatwave

Red alerts have been issued for temperatures in excess of 45C in some parts – with the heatwave forecast to last for days to come.

Two women jump from a platform over the water at La Concha beach in San Sebastian, Spain (AP)
Two women jump from a platform over the water at La Concha beach in San Sebastian, Spain (AP)

Portugal and Spain are sweltering in a southern European heatwave that has produced near-record temperatures – with the hot conditions threatening to stick around for days to come.

The extreme weather, caused by an influx of hot air from Africa, is also carrying loads of dust from the Sahara Desert across some parts of the continent.

Portugal has issued red health alerts for extreme heat for more than half the country, with thermometers approaching 46C on Saturday.

(PA Graphics)

The country’s highest ever recorded temperature was 47.4C in 2003.

Spain also issued warnings of extreme heat for its southern areas, with temperatures expected to reach 45C in the cities of Seville, Huelva, Badajoz and Cordoba. Spain’s all-time record of 46.9C was set in Cordoba in July 2017.

In southern Portugal, the town of Evora was almost at a standstill on Saturday as only a few foreign tourists dared to venture out to take photographs of the Roman ruins called Diana’s Temple.

Across the Iberian Peninsula in Barcelona, where the stifling air barely stirred during the night, Spaniards took to the beach with families and friends, along with swarms of sweating tourists.

Those who could not make it to the sea had cold drinks under large umbrellas in city squares. Others doused their faces and necks in public water fountains, or simply pulled down the shutters and stayed at home.

Health officials issued reminders about the dangers that extreme heat can pose, especially for the elderly and the young.

A Superpuma helicopter of the Swiss Army delivers water for cows near Schaenis, Switzerland (AP)

The rest of Spain, including the normally wet and temperate northwestern region of Galicia, was also punished by the sun and heat.

The heat wave broke local temperature records at eight places in Portugal on Friday. It also played a part in the deaths of two men, one in Barcelona and the other in the southern Spanish region of Murcia, according to Spanish authorities.

The hot, dry conditions have led to several wildfires in Portugal.

Nearly 700 firefighters and 10 water-dumping aircraft are fighting the biggest outbreak, which has burned 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) near the town of Monchique in the southern Algarve region.

Crowds at La Concha beach in the basque city of San Sebastian (AP)

“It’s a very serious situation of extreme heat,” Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said.

The World Meteorological Organisation said continental Europe’s heat record is 48C, set in Greece in 1977.

Forecasts indicate that the hot air from Africa, which turned parts of the sky a dark yellow hue because of the dust it carried, will not abate until early next week.

The torrid weather has been felt across Europe, as far north as Sweden.

A woman takes a photo as her child plays in a fountain at a park in Moscow (AP)

Meanwhile, French energy company EDF has halted a fourth nuclear reactor – this time at the country’s oldest nuclear plant at Fessenheim in eastern France.

Since Thursday, four French nuclear reactors in three power plants near the Rhine and the Rhone Rivers, including Fessenheim, have had to be temporarily shut down. EDF said the decision was made to avoid overheating the rivers.

Nuclear power plants use water from the rivers to cool down the temperatures of their reactors before sending the water back into the rivers.

Rivers that are unusually warm can experience mass fish die-offs, which has happened in Germany in the past week.

Press Association

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