New wildfires rage in Europe as punishing heatwave claims more lives

Hundreds of firefighters battled new wildfires in France and Spain on Saturday as the European heatwave claimed three more lives in Italy.

More than 700 firefighters had to be mobilised to bring 60 separate fires under control in the southern French département of Gard.

At least 15 homes were destroyed and 1,500 acres of land were left scorched and blackened land. 

In Spain, firefighters managed to contain 90 per cent of the worst wildfire in 20 years that had raged across 23 square miles of land in Catalonia, but two other wildfires were still burning in central Spain. 

British expats told ion Saturday how they fled for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs as the wildfire encircled their rural homes in Catalonia last week.

“I was terrified. I thought I was going to die,” Eve Sweeney told the Catalan News Agency (ACN). “I tried to walk away from the fire, but it was coming back around me, so I thought I’m not going to escape. I walked for about 5km, alone with my dog, and we got so lucky.”

Ms Sweeney took refuge with 30 other evacuees at a school in the village of Flix. The fire had devastated almost 15,000 acres by the time it was brought under control.

“I’m devastated. I don’t know what’s left of my home, if anything. I think maybe it’s gone,” Ms Sweeney said. “I know both my car and my camper van have gone. The house may have survived a bit, but not much.”

“We could see ash coming down onto the house and the planes spraying water on the other side of the hill next to us,” Sam Evans, another British expat who fled with his five dogs, told ACN. “We’ve been provided with lots of things, basically anything we’ve needed.”

Across the border in the south of France, people breathed a sigh of relief as temperatures began to fall and authorities lifted the red alert which had been declared for the first time as the temperature hit 45.9C.

But Paris wilted during its hottest day of the heatwave, with a high of 38C, and many Parisians stayed indoors behind curtains and shutters, while the more adventurous swam in the Canal Saint Martin.

People rushed to buy electric fans, but stocks were quickly exhausted. High-speed trains were forced to slow down because of fears the extreme heat was causing rails to expand, and sections of motorway were closed.

The French government has imposed emergency measures including cold rooms in public buildings and temporary water fountains. Parks are being left unlocked at night so people can cool off.

The torrid heat has scorched vineyards in southern France, causing up to 40 per cent of grapes to wither on the vines in the Languedoc region.

In Italy, three people were reported to have died of heat-related causes. Milan saw sporadic power blackouts as the demand for air conditioning strained the electricity supply.

The captain of a volunteer migrant rescue ship faces a potential jail sentence in Italy after she forced her vessel’s way into harbour over fears for the safety of her passengers amid the heatwave.

Some 40 rescued migrants have been on the Sea-Watch 3 for six weeks while the vessel was locked in a stand-off with Italian authorities who refused to allow it to land.

Captain Carlota Rackete, the ship’s German skipper, said in a video statement she decided to land on the Italian island of Lampedusa without permission over fears for her passengers’ safety. She was arrested and faces up to ten years in jail if convicted.

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