Wildfires rage across Europe as climate alarm sounds

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  • Hundreds flee in Tuscany as burning gas tanks explode
  • Fire brought under control near Athens after the evacuation of hundreds of people
  • Step up climate action, warns UK, after hottest day
  • New energy consumption records expected as US braces for heatwave
  • China braces for another heat wave; could last until august

ATHENS/LONDON, July 20 (Reuters) – Emergency services battled wildfires across large areas of southern Europe on Wednesday amid mass evacuations, as warnings sounded in London after the deadliest day hottest in Britain that the fight against climate change needed to be stepped up.

Hundreds of people fled across central Italy when gas tanks exploded in a wildfire near the Tuscan town of Lucca. Similar numbers fled to Greece as a fire fueled by strong winds raged in the mountains north of Athens. Greek authorities said later in the day that the fire had been brought under control. Read more

A brutal heat wave with peaks well above 40 degrees Celsius (104F) settled over southern Europe last week, part of a global pattern of rising temperatures, widely attributed by the scientists and climatologists to human activity. Scorching heat is expected to pour over much of China through the end of August. Read more

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It is also expected to expose about 100 million Americans to temperatures above 38C on Wednesday and set records in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Read more

Energy consumption is set to hit new highs in central US states – adding to greenhouse gas emissions – as homes and businesses turn on air conditioners to combat a heat wave that is expected to last until next week. Read more

As last week’s record heat around parts of the Mediterranean has eased, mercury readings have started to rise again in Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Armando Silva, civil protection commander in Portugal’s northern region, said rising temperatures and high winds would make it harder to fight the country’s biggest wildfire centered in the municipality of Murça.

It has burned 10,000 to 12,000 hectares (38 to 46 square miles) since Sunday and around 800 firefighters and six water planes have been deployed to deal with it.

ABOVE 40C

In Spain, where emergency teams were fighting fires in five regions, the national weather service AEMET also forecast higher temperatures.

Wildfires burned in several regions of Italy, including one that threatened to leave part of the northeastern city of Trieste without electricity or water, and 14 metropolitan areas, including Rome, Milan and Florence, were to be put down Thursday in the country’s highest heat wave alert.

Forecasters said temperatures are expected to reach 40C in part of the north and center this week.

That mark was surpassed in Britain for the first time on Tuesday, breaking the country’s previous temperature record of 1.6 degrees Celsius. At least 13 people have died while swimming to cool off. Read more

Britain’s Met Office science and technology chief, Stephen Belcher, has said that unless emissions are reduced, the country could experience similar heatwaves every three years.

Treasury Minister Simon Clarke said Tuesday’s “remarkable and unprecedented” tally served as a “reminder…of the importance of tackling climate change”.

British engineers raced on Wednesday to repair railway tracks that buckled in the heat after firefighters worked through the night to quell wildfires. On Tuesday, firefighters in London endured their busiest day since World War II. Read more

“OUR GRANDCHILDREN WILL SUFFER”

Climate change is leading to more wildfires and will force France and the European Union to make “structural decisions…in the years to come,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.

In southern Europe, much larger forest fires continued to rage.

In Italy, emergency teams in Tuscany battled the Lucca blaze, which forced around 500 people to evacuate as flames reached villages overnight and blew up liquefied gas tanks, tweeted the governor of the region, Eugenio Giani.

Another fire near the border with Croatia and Slovenia has forced state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri (FCT.MI) to close its factory in the port town of Monfalcone, which employs 3,000 people.

As the blaze swept through Slovenia, the mayor of nearby Trieste told local television that parts of the city may soon lose power, cutting off water supplies.

In Greece, thick smoke darkened the sky over Mount Penteli, 27 km (16 miles) north of Athens, where nearly 500 firefighters, 120 fire trucks and 15 water-carrying planes made it through to stem the spread of a forest fire.

“Yesterday’s fire in the Penteli region had all the hallmarks of a very difficult situation to manage,” Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said in a televised statement on Wednesday.

“Now the fire has been brought under control.”

Greek authorities said they had evacuated nine settlements and a hospital, and police helped at least 600 residents get out of the burning areas. Strong winds are expected to persist in the region through Thursday.

In France, where firefighters in south-west Gironde have been battling since July 12 to contain huge wildfires, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said more money needed to be invested to deal with the these threats. Read more

In Portugal, as the Murça fire raged nearby, olive grower Manuel Lopes, 67, feared for his plantations and the future of his drought-stricken region. “Our grandchildren (…) will suffer if this (climate change) does not stop,” he said.

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Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris and Vassilis Triandafyllou in Athens; Dominique Vidalon, Mathieu Rosemain and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; Kate Holton and William James in London, Emma Pinedo in Madrid and Catarina Demoney in Lisbon; Written by John Stonestreet; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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