Italy Breaking Temperature Records as Wildfires Rage in Greece

Europe’s heat wave is getting worse, with temperatures forecast to peak at 47C (116.6F) on Wednesday in Sicily and Sardinia, while wildfires continue to rage in Greece.

(Bloomberg) — Europe’s heat wave is getting worse, with temperatures forecast to peak at 47C (116.6F) on Wednesday in Sicily and Sardinia, while wildfires continue to rage in Greece.

Authorities warned lives were in danger as the mercury climbed from Spain to Turkey. The latest blast of Saharan heat could test Europe’s record of 48.8C, set in Sicily two years ago, after local records were broken in Rome and Catalonia on Tuesday.

The danger level from wildfires around Athens remains very high amid near-gale force winds, while another blaze on the Greek island of Rhodes forced the evacuation of three villages to nearby beaches.

As US climate envoy John Kerry met with China’s Vice President Han Zheng on his final day of talks in Beijing, man-made global warming is turbocharging heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere. Following the hottest ever June, temperature records are being broken from Tokyo and Phoenix to Turpan in China, underscoring the threat posed by fossil fuels to a changing climate.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “But this is here to stay. We expect heat waves to become more intense and more prolonged.”

The impact of the heat is being felt particularly hard in Greece. Almost 100 fireman, supported by three jets, are trying to extinguish the Rhodes fire that started late Tuesday evening. Winds across the Aegean islands and the Attica region around Athens will be as strong as 32 to 38 miles per hour on Wednesday, before another blast of Saharan heat hits the country tomorrow.

Firefighters have contained some of the blazes around the Greek capital, but the fires are still burning in the region near Loutraki, a resort 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Athens. The national highway to the town is open again, while the Motor Oil Hellas SA refinery that’s in the area is no longer under threat. 

Four firefighting planes from France and Italy that were sent by the European Union are already helping Greek authorities, with more jets being dispatched from Israel. Another blaze that spread from Dervenoxoria to Mandra over the past two days is still burning north of Athens, with five fire jets and eight helicopters trying to control it. 

“We are experiencing a heat wave across southern Europe already causing devastating consequences in Greece, with thousands of hectares burned in a short period of time,” the EU’s Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic said.

In the Swiss canton of Valais, 150 firefighters are looking to extinguish a forest blaze that forced the evacuation of a number of Alpine villages. 

While a fire in Spain’s La Palma is close to being fully extinguished, Canary Islands authorities are advising residents to stay indoors due to the poor air quality. Most of the country continues to face a high risk of wildfires, while in the capital Madrid municipal trucks are watering the streets to cool them down.

Italy’s ministry of health warned of emergency heat wave conditions in 23 major cities, including Rome, Venice and Palermo. Nine French regions in the southeast of the country have also been put on a heat wave alert. 

In Sardinia, where temperatures climbed near to 46C on Tuesday, mobile phones are dying in the intense heat. Farmers will also have to re-think harvests, according to Valeria Satta, the regional government official in charge of agriculture.

“Seasons have changed, completely. We should brace for a very long summer season,” he said. “Climate is a bit crazy, and the warmer season has lead for about five years to a seasonal invasion of grasshoppers which is directly linked to the heat.”

The WMO said that soaring minimum night time temperatures — with parts of Sardinia not dropping below 34C — are putting lives at risk, increasing the chance of heart attacks as the body is unable to recover from the daytime heat.

“The minimum temperature is more important for health and failing critical infrastructure during extreme heat waves,” said senior WMO extreme heat adviser John Nairn.

The intense heat is affecting sea temperatures too, with parts of the Mediterranean expected to reach over 30C, according to the WMO. Those marine heat waves could impact the migration of species and cause invasive species to arrive into European waters with consequences for fisheries and local fauna.

–With assistance from Laura Millan, Paula Doenecke, John Ainger, Flavia Rotondi and Chiara Albanese.

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