Firefighters in Tuscany battled a wildfire on Wednesday that forced hundreds of people to evacuate when gas tanks caught in the flames exploded, while smoke from a blaze in northeastern Italy blew forced shipbuilder Fincantieri to close a factory employing 3,000 people.
Wildfires have broken out in several regions of Italy this week as temperatures continue to rise. Emergency services have been battling wildfires in swaths of southern Europe after a record-breaking heat wave, widely blamed on global warming by scientists and climatologists, set in last week.
Nine towns were on Italy’s highest heatwave alert, which warns of serious weather-related health risks, up from five on Tuesday. The total is expected to rise to 14 on Thursday, including Rome, Milan and Florence, and 16 on Friday.
Temperatures are expected to reach 40C in parts of the north and center this week, as well as southern Puglia and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
On Wednesday, a fire that broke out on Monday evening near the Tuscan town of Lucca continued to burn, having already destroyed some 600 hectares of woodland.
It forced around 500 people to evacuate as flames raged through the night reaching some villages and causing liquefied gas tanks to explode, regional governor Eugenio Giani said on Twitter.
“Some fronts have strengthened due to the wind,” Giani said.
In the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, residents have been told to stay indoors due to thick smoke from a forest fire that broke out in the Carso area on Tuesday, in the border between Croatia and Slovenia.
The fire prompted state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri to close its factory in the port town of Monfalcone.
Hospital, houses evacuated in Greece
A fire fueled by strong winds raged in Greece, forcing hundreds of people, including hospital patients, to evacuate.
In Greece, thick clouds of smoke darkened the sky above Mount Penteli 27 km north of Athens, where nearly 500 firefighters, 120 fire engines and 15 water-carrying planes attempted to contain a fire that started on Tuesday and continued to burn on several fronts.
Authorities said they had evacuated nine settlements. A hospital and the National Observatory in Athens were also evacuated, and police helped at least 600 residents get out of the burned areas.
“Due to the intensity and speed of the winds, the fire constantly changed direction throughout the night,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios said in a televised statement.
Strong winds are expected to persist through Wednesday afternoon.
Last year wildfires tore through forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country suffered its worst heat wave in 30 years.
Macron will visit a damaged French region
In France, where firefighters in south-west Gironde have been battling since July 12 to contain huge forest fires, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said more money needed to be invested to deal with these threats.
“We have to deal with a completely exceptional situation,” he said, referring to the damage caused in Brittany and the south of France.
President Emmanuel Macron was due to travel to the Gironde region on Wednesday as local authorities said improving weather conditions as the French heatwave moved east helped the fight to contain the flames.
Civil protection commander for Portugal’s northern region, Armando Silva, said rising temperatures and strong winds would make it more difficult to fight the country’s biggest wildfire, which has burned 10,000 to 12,000 hectares since Sunday in and around the municipality of Murça.
In Spain, where emergency teams were battling fires in five regions, the national weather service AEMET was also forecasting higher temperatures.
That 40C mark was surpassed in Britain for the first time on Tuesday, breaking the country’s previous temperature record of 1.6 degrees.
British engineers raced on Wednesday to repair railway tracks that had buckled in the heat after firefighters, who in London endured their busiest day since World War II on Tuesday, worked through the night to quell the blazes of forest.