'We are living in a nightmare': Wildfires rage across Europe as continent braces for hottest day ever

19 July 2023, 01:27 | Updated: 19 July 2023, 02:56

Wildfires have taken over Europe as a heatwave sweeps the continent
Wildfires have taken over Europe as a heatwave sweeps the continent. Picture: Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Wildfires are raging across Europe as scorching temperatures are set to reach record highs.

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Greece, Spain and Switzerland are all battling wildfires amid fears from the UN's weather agency that the continent could break its record temperature.

As Greece fights to keep the fires under control - on multiple fronts around Athens - Italy and France have each sent two firefighting planes to assist.

The planes and their teams of firefighters are part of an EU civil protection mechanism, and they will join some 30 Romanian firefighters already stationed in Greece as part of a seasonal EU fire programme, European officials said.

Read more: London Fire Brigade ‘prepared’ for heatwaves with new specialist training after UK wildfire destroyed 16 homes last year

Read more: Fears over holiday flights as expert warns planes can struggle to take off in searing heat

Children being evacuated from wildfires in Greece
Children being evacuated from wildfires in Greece. Picture: Getty

Wildfires on Tuesday continued to burn out of control to the north and west of Athens, including a blaze near the resort town of Loutraki, where more homes were damaged and evacuations were expanded.

Several smaller fires also broke out nearer the capital, where winds remained moderate but forest land has been dried out by the extreme temperatures.

In the suburb of Mandra, 250 firefighters assisted by 75 fire engines, 11 aircraft and nine helicopters have been battling a blaze.

"We are living a nightmare," Christos Stathis, the town's mayor, told Open TV.

A second heatwave is expected on Thursday, with temperatures as high as 44C expected in central and southern parts of the country.

Firefighters trying to control the wildfires
Firefighters trying to control the wildfires. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile, the Red Cross in Italy called elderly people to ensure they were ok and hospitals across the country have seen a sharp rise in the number of people seeking emergency care for heat-related illnesses.

Officials in Portugal warned people to ensure their children and pets are not kept in parked cars to avoid similar scenarios.

Volunteers have been handing out water in Greece and Spanish authorities issued a reminder about taking measures to avoid breathing in smoke from blazes triggered by the heatwave.

Panu Saaristo, emergency health unit team leader for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "Heatwaves are really an invisible killer.

Wildfires force thousands to flee seaside resorts outside Greek capital

"We are experiencing hotter and hotter temperatures for longer stretches of time every single summer here in Europe."

There were questions over whether tourists would begin rethinking their plans due to scorching temperatures.

Some Brits had begun cancelling their holidays in Europe as the Charon heatwave sweeps the continent, while tourist hotspots have had to flee fires.

Kalamaki in Greece is burning
Kalamaki in Greece is burning. Picture: Alamy

Tourists have collapsed and fainted in Italy, where 23 cities are to be given extreme temperature warnings, and Greece, while La Palma in the Canary Islands has seen fires breakout.

About 1,200 children were evacuated from a summer camp near Athens as Greece battles two raging wildfires.

Three have been recorded around the capital, prompting thousands to be evacuated from the coast south of the city.

Read more: Holidaymakers evacuated from scorching resorts in Europe as 'hottest day' approaches - and it could last until August

One has been put out but fires burn to the north and west. Tourist hotspots like the Acropolis have been closed in the afternoon to help workers.

Spain, which has already experienced a drought, has temperatures forecast up to 43C in Mallorca, a popular destination for Brits.

In Switzerland, a wildfire broke out in the Wallis region in the southwest, forcing the evacuation of four villages.

Tourists cool down in Rome under baking temperatures
Tourists cool down in Rome under baking temperatures. Picture: Alamy

The mercury reached highs of 44.8C in Spain on Monday.

And scientists believe 2023 could go down as the hottest year on record as climate change continues to amplify weather problems.

Read more: Brits cancel holidays as Europe bakes in scorching heatwave and tourists are evacuated due to wildfires

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) attributes the heat to unprecedented sea surface temperatures and low Arctic sea-ice levels.

John Nairn, senior extreme heat adviser for the WMO, said there has been a sixfold increase in heatwaves since the 1980s and added: "These are not your normal weather systems of the past. They have arrived as a consequence of climate change.

The Spanish authorities are fighting a fire on La Palma
The Spanish authorities are fighting a fire on La Palma. Picture: Alamy

"It is global warming and it's going to continue for some time."

The temperatures show no signs of decreasing much, with the WMO saying on Monday: "The heat is forecast to intensify by the middle of the week (19 July) in parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Turkey.

"A further continuation into August is likely."

The US and China have also been struck by soaring temperatures. The latter recorded 52.2C in its arid north west region on Sunday.

In the US, Death Valley - which has held the record for the hottest place on earth - pushed to 49C at midnight, a record for that time.