The European Commission said on Monday it had “mobilized its fire-fighting fleet to help Portugal fight devastating wildfires” as residents evacuated their homes in danger zones.
Weather experts in Portugal say temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius could be reported in the Alentejo – the region between Lisbon and the Algarve – from Tuesday, Sky News reported. Strong winds of 40 miles per hour are also forecast in several regions. Local media reported on Monday that the fires in Santarém, Leiria and Vila Real districts were “of most concern”.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Portugal, a heavily forested country fanned by winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. Spain, which has also experienced devastating forest fires in recent weeks, sent Portugal two fire-fighting planes on Sunday, as did the European Union said she was “ready to provide further assistance”.
Experts say extreme heat and unseasonably warm temperatures will only become more common and severe as the world grapples with the impacts of human-caused climate change. Last month, a historic heatwave across Europe broke records in France and Spain, where temperatures reached 104 degrees, unusual for the month of June.
Scientists have long warned that climate change is extending Portugal’s “wildfire season” from two to five months, the BBC reported. In 2017, more than 100 people died after fires, leading to widespread condemnation of the government’s wildfire response. Some responders complained of a lack of equipment, while others said the forests were not being properly managed or protected.
The current The nationwide state of emergency means people will be excluded from forest areas considered to be particularly vulnerable and farmers are urged not to use machinery that could cause sparks.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa took to Twitter over the weekendand wrote: “PLEASE DO NOT START FIRES OR USE MACHINES.”
The use of firecrackers at celebrations and festivals has also been banned amid high temperatures and the drought, the Associated Press reported.
The fires broke out quickly in some areas. “It was very sudden, lots of smoke, suddenly the old house was on fire,” a witness told the BBC on Monday.
In Spain, wildfires broke out near Valencia and other parts of the country last month after days of extreme heat. In Italy, Rome recorded its highest temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 degrees Celsius).
Poland and Austria have also been hit by unusually high temperatures, as has Britain, a country that lacks air conditioning – worrying the elderly and the homeless.
Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, told the Washington Post that the UK is “really unprepared” for extreme heat because offices, homes and care homes “weren’t built to keep people cool”.