Fires break out around London and heat wave sets UK record
First responders at a fire on Dartford Heath in Dartford, England on Tuesday.
Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
A historic heat wave continues to scorch parts of Europe, where extreme weather has broken many temperature records, worsened already severe drought conditions, fueled dozens of wildfires and killed more than 1,000 people. Although part of the region finally started to cool on Monday as the heat wave moved east, the UK recorded its highest temperature on record on Tuesday – 40.3 degrees Celsius (104 .5 degrees Fahrenheit) – and the heat has led to at least ten grass fires in the greater London area. Temperatures will cool overnight in the UK as the heat wave moves into Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Extreme heat is a particularly dangerous weather event, as the vast majority of homes in the UK are not air-conditioned. Temperature records have already been set in several European countries over the past week. This is the second historic heat wave to hit the continent this year. Scientists have linked extreme weather conditions to climate change.
Heathrow Airport recorded a new UK temperature record of 40.2 degrees Celsius on Tuesday afternoon. The record didn’t last long: a temperature of 40.3 degrees was then recorded at Coningsby in Lincolnshire. (The previous heat record was 38.7 degrees in the summer of 2019.) Tuesday’s brutal heat sparked at least ten fires in the greater London area, prompting London firefighters to declare a major incident.
The heatwave has caused severe disruption in the UK, where the government on Monday and Tuesday issued its first-ever extreme heat ‘red warning’ for much of the country, advising people to work from home, avoid use the roads and public transport, and do whatever it takes to stay hydrated and cool. Many schools closed early. On the rail system, including the Tube in London, trains run at reduced speeds for justified fear that the heat will warp the tracks.
Hospitals are canceling surgeries because the operating rooms are too hot. And in some places, road crews are preparing to spread sand on road surfaces to prevent them from melting. It’s a problem at least two UK airports have already encountered: Luton Airport suspended flights on Monday after a heat-related fault was discovered on its runway, and Sky News reports that a runway has ‘melted’ into the country’s largest airbase, RAF Brize Norton. , forcing it to shift air traffic to other airfields.
For people in the UK, staying cool can be difficult: only 1% of UK buildings have built-in air conditioning systems and no more than 5% have portable air conditioning systems, according to the FinancialTimes.
Temperatures should go down close to seasonal norms after Tuesday, but the notoriously cold country is getting a wake-up call about its future climate.
Record temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded in western France, where temperatures continue to rise.
Firefighters across southwestern Europe are stretched to their limits as wildfires spread rapidly amid extreme heat. More than 1,700 firefighters are still trying to contain a pair of massive blazes in France’s southwestern Gironde region that started last week and have already burned 47,000 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 31,000 people.
More than 30 fires are burning in several regions of Spain. Fires in the hills of Mijas (near Malaga) in the southern region of Andalusia have forced the evacuation of some 3,000 people. Other forest fires are spreading in the regions of Extremadura, Castile and León and Galicia, in the west and north-west of Spain.
And in Portugal, where a national record temperature of 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded on Thursday, 1,000 firefighters are trying to contain more than a dozen blazes in central and northern regions of the country – although cooler weather helped those efforts on Monday.
The heat wave has fueled wildfires across the Mediterranean – including on Croatia’s Adriatic coast, Italy, the Greek island of Crete, southwestern Turkey and the north Morocco.
A heat wave was the last thing Italy needed. In northern Italy, the worst drought in 70 years had already reduced parts of the Po to a trickle, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in one of the country’s most important agricultural regions. The river, which flows east from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea near Venice, is not only the longest waterway in the country, but an essential source of water for residents, farmers and the hydroelectric power.
The Po basin (home to a third of Italy’s population, more than half of its cattle and nearly two-thirds of its pigs) typically produces around 30% of the country’s annual agricultural production, including rice, wheat , ham and cheese. . The drought, which is the result of unprecedented high temperatures and a severe three-year rainfall deficit, has led to widespread water rationing, has already devastated the region’s rice industry and is expected to cause some 3 billions of euros in damage.
This post has been updated.