Dry rivers, burning forests; Europe melts in heat wave

First Published Aug 11, 2022, 1:22 PM IST

YuGermany, France and Spain are literally scorching as Europe goes through its worst drought in 500 years. The heat wave that has been raging in Europe for the past two months has been spreading wildfires. Thousands of acres of dry forest in southwest France have been destroyed by wildfires as the heat rises. The wildfire named Landiras, which started last Tuesday, has burned 15,000 acres of pine forest. Around 6,000 people have already been evacuated from the fire-ravaged area since last month. 16 houses near the village of Belin-Beliot were burnt down. The forest fire is raging in the area known for its summer tourism. Around 500 firefighters are working around the clock to contain the raging forest fire. Meanwhile, there are warnings that wildfires are spreading to the A 63 motorway, the main road that connects Bordeaux to Spain. The speed through this route was reduced to 55 km/h as the smoke obstructed visibility. Officials also informed that this road will be closed if the forest fire is strong.

Initially, authorities suspected that the Landiras wildfire was man-made. Officials also informed that a person was taken into custody for this, but he was released due to lack of evidence. Several fires were reported in southern France yesterday.

Wildfires spread in the southern regions of Lozère and Aveyron. About 600 hectares have already been burnt. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited the area. Another fire is in the Maine-et-Loire region of western France, where 1,600 acres have burned and 500 acres are under threat, local authorities said.

Wildfires are also raging in the Chartreuse Mountains near the Alps in eastern France. Authorities evacuated about 140 people there. Three firefighters were reportedly injured. Two wildfires in July in the Gironde in southwestern France burned more than 20,000 hectares of forest. About 40,000 people were also evacuated.

The Air Force has sent a helicopter to fight forest fires in the Netherlands. Warming temperatures and a lack of rain have led to large-scale wildfires in southern Europe during the summer. Many summer resorts are closed. Roads leading to these areas were also closed.

The French government has warned of a record drought. France recorded the fourth warmest time of the year. Currently, the temperature in France is 37 degrees Celsius. The weather center said the heat wave that started from the south will spread across the country and is expected to last till the weekend.

In the southern half of France, daytime temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius are expected and it will not drop below 20 degrees Celsius at night, according to the report. Meteo France said the record heat wave will not be as intense as last month.

But the government itself says the high temperatures come amid the worst drought ever recorded. Last month was the driest July since temperature records began in 1959, the figures show. Soybean, sunflower and corn production decreased due to warmer temperatures.

Energy giant EDF has also reportedly been forced to temporarily cut power output at nuclear power plants that use river water to cool reactors as the heat rises. Water levels in rivers, lakes and reservoirs across Western Europe are falling dramatically or drying up.

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Drinking water supply has been disrupted following the worst drought in decades. Along with that, the river has a negative impact on freight traffic and tourism. The harvest is declining. Lake Brenets, a tourist attraction in eastern France’s Jura region, has stopped flowing.

Spain’s National Meteorological Agency informs that the country has not experienced as hot as this July in more than six decades. European Forest Fire Information reports that 2022 was Spain’s worst year on record in terms of burned areas and number of fires. More than 370 fires have burned 240,000 hectares of forest in Spain alone this time.

As multiple heat waves have formed across the European continent, the condition of rivers across Europe is dire. In Germany, there are no navigable rivers for ships to navigate, with inland waterways being the main route for freight. The Po, Italy’s longest river, has seen a dramatic drop in water levels, leaving large stretches of sandbanks in the river.

In early July, Italy declared a state of emergency in the region around the Po, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s agricultural production. Spain has announced that the world’s largest olive oil production could be cut by almost a third due to extreme heat. Dozens of drinking water tankers are running non-stop to rural areas in France.

The warnings also say that even worse things could happen in Europe due to climate change. Economists estimate that up to half a percentage point could be cut from economic growth in Germany, where river freight movement is almost at a standstill. Experts also warn that the country is facing recession due to energy crisis even before the drought.

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