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Europe heatwaves: Wildfires rage in Greece as temperatures soar

Large swathes of southern Europe continue to swelter in record heat as wildfires rage across the continent.

Temperatures hit a high of 46.3C in Sicily on Tuesday, and crews battled fires in Greece and the Swiss Alps.

Most of Italy’s major cities are on red alert, meaning the extreme heat carries a health risk to everybody not just vulnerable groups.

Scientists say climate change is making heatwaves longer, more intense and more frequent.

Across the world, millions of people are being impacted by extreme weather; from soaring temperatures in the US and China, to heavy rainfall in East Asia.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says heatwaves will become more severe in the years ahead, and that extreme weather patterns highlight the need for more climate action.

“These events will continue to grow in intensity and the world needs to prepare for more intense heatwaves,” said John Nairn, senior extreme heat advisor at the UN agency.

Since Monday, Greece has seen multiple wildfires break out across the country – including one which led to the evacuation of 1,200 children from a summer camp.

The most severe fire in Greece currently is in the Dervenochoria region north of Athens, where billowing smoke can be seen on satellite images.

Other fires continue to rage in towns of Loutraki – a coastal town near the city of Corinth – and in Kouvaras, south of the capital.

“Our main concern is protecting human life,” fire service spokesman Yannis Artopios said.

Elsewhere in Europe, crews in Switzerland are battling a wildfire close to the village of Bitsch in canton Valais which authorities said started on Monday afternoon and spread “explosively” overnight.

Another wildfire on the Spanish island of La Palma, which started on Saturday, has destroyed 20 homes.

But, cooler overnight temperatures and higher air humidity levels helped firefighters gain the upper hand in their battle against the blaze and bring it under control.

Red alerts, warning people of a very high health risk due to the intense heat, remain in place for most of Italy, Spain, Greece and parts of the Balkans.

Official maximum temperatures for Tuesday have not yet been confirmed, but provision results showed a high of 45.3C in Figueres in north-west Spain, 44.5C in Bauladu on the island of Sardinia, and 46.3C in Licata on Sicily.

The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was set in August 2021 when the mercury hit 48.8C (119.8F) in the Palermo region of Sicily.

Extreme temperatures have also gripped other parts of the globe including the US and China.

More than 80 million people in western and southern US states are under advisories for a “widespread and oppressive” heatwave.

Temperatures at California’s Death Valley hit a near-record 52C (125.6F) Sunday, while on Monday Arizona’s state capital Phoenix tied its record of 18 consecutive days above 43C (109.4F).

China provisionally broke its record for all-time highest temperature on Sunday when it recorded 52.2C (126F) in its western Xinjiang region, according to the UK Met Office.

Also in Asia, on China’s eastern coast torrential rain brought on by Typhoon Talim has displaced thousands.

Talim is heading for Vietnam where 30,000 people in the storm’s path have moved to safer ground.

It comes as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed to “completely overhaul” the country’s approach to extreme weather after dozens were killed in widespread flooding and landslides at the weekend.

Leading UK scientist Dr Frederieke Otto, from Imperial College London, told the BBC that “what we are seeing at the moment is exactly what we expect in a world where we are still burning fossil fuels”.

Humans are “100% behind” the upward trend in global temperatures, she explains.

The International Energy Agency has said there can be no new oil, gas or coal projects if governments are serious about tackling climate change.

Scientists say Europe in particular is warming faster than many climate models predicted.

“There is a feeling that it’s going out of control,” University of Reading Prof Hannah Cloke explains.

“We have a lot of work to do to pin down exactly what’s happening. These heatwaves are frightening…We know this will be really deadly.”

She said more than 61,000 people were estimated to have died from heat in Europe last year, and this year would be similar.

Source: BBC