Europe bakes: France on red alert for first time as wildfires rage in Spain

Europeans braced Thursday for the expected peak of a sweltering heatwave that has sent temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius, with parts of France palced on red alert and wildfires in Spain spinning out of control.

Europe bakes: France on red alert for first time as wildfires rage in Spain

Europeans braced Thursday for the expected peak of a sweltering heatwave that has sent temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius, with schools in France closing and wildfires in Spain spinning out of control.

Governments warned citizens to take extra precautions, with the high temperatures also causing a build-up of pollution, as emergency calls to hospitals increased.

Exceptional for arriving so early in summer, the heatwave will on Thursday and Friday likely send thermometers above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in France, Spain and Greece.

A forest fire in Torre del Espanol in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region raged out of control, devouring land despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters who worked through the night.

IN PICS: Forest fire rages across north eastern Spain

In the Italian city of Milan, a homeless man aged 72 was found dead at the main train station after falling ill due to the heatwave, the local authorities said.

The health ministry in Italy has been issuing advice to the public which includes urging them to avoid big pizza and pasta meals and eat four to five light meals a day. Yes, four to five. Only in Italy?


Ice cakes for animals

Across Europe people frolicked in fountains to stay cool while at the Bordeaux-Pessac Zoo in southwestern France, keepers handed out fish or mango ice cakes to keep the animals cool.

At the Serengeti animal park in Hodenhagen near Hanover, northern Germany, keepers even applied sunscreen to some animals.

The German Red Cross told Germans, who are notorious for the fear of air draughts (durchzug), to stop being so neurotic and embrace the open window and fan.

You might get a stiff neck they say but you won't get a cold, as many Germans believe.

The western city of Dortmund called on its citizens to help water trees in front of their homes.

“The young trees in the street area are suffering from extraordinary drought stress in the current heat,” they wrote on their website.

On Thursday France raised the heatwave alert level to red for the first time ever as temperatures in parts of the south were set to reach 44C on Friday.

The red level alert, which is for a “dangerous weather phenomenon” comes with some warnings for the public to take the upmost precaution.


Météo France said “all of us are threatened, even healthy people”.

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said people had to be prepared for the peak of the heatwave and expressed irritation that some appeared not to be taking the advice on board. 

“We see citizens who are quite irresponsible and continue to go jogging between midday and 2:00 pm,” she told France 2 TV.

She complained also of seeing “parents who leave their children in the car to do some quick shopping or leave them without a hat in the open air.”

Some four days into the heatwave, Buzyn said French authorities were seeing an increase in the number of calls to emergency services and that she was concerned there would be an influx of people going to hospital.

All-time record?

The average maximum temperature recorded Wednesday in France of 34.9 degrees Celsius was already a record for the month of June, said state weather forecaster Meteo France.

Even higher temperatures are expected on Friday, where areas in the south could see peaks of 42 to 44 degrees Celsius.

Meteo France said France's all-time record could be broken — an August 12, 2003 reading of 44.1 degrees Celsius in Saint-Christol-les-Ales and Conqueyrac in the southern Gard region.

Saturday is expected to be the hottest day for the Paris region with temperatures between 38-40 degrees Celsius expected.

The city has introduced its emergency plan to deal with the heatwave, which includes opening up “cool rooms” throughout the city, such as in Town Halls where elderly residents can go to keep cool and also keeping parks open at night.


Authorities in France, who are still scared since the 2003 heatwave which left 15, 000 mostly elderly people dead, have also implemented checks on older people

Temperatures are expected to fall next week but will still remain well above the norms for this time of the year.

French hotel group Accor said it would open up its air-conditioned lobbies to the elderly until Saturday to ensure their wellbeing.

There has been no coordinated shutdown of schools but some have closed in parts of France, while others advised parents to keep children at home.

Schools in Paris will stay open until the end of next week when the summer holidays will begin, city authorities said.

In the wider Paris region, authorities have shut some primary schools including in Essonne where around 59 educational institutions have closed.

Increasing probability

The increase in temperature has also led to a build-up of pollution in already clogged cities, in particular the gas ozone.

In Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg, authorities have banned the most-polluting cars from the roads.

Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such scorchers more frequent.

“Global temperatures are increasing due to climate change,” said Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at the University of Reading.

“The global rise in temperatures means the probability that an extreme heatwave will occur is also increasing.”

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Brussels warns Italy to rein in public spending amid pandemic

Most EU member states should continue to invest to support the continent's economic recovery, but heavily-indebted Italy should rein in public spending, the European Commission warned on Wednesday.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi expects the country's GDP to recover in the coming year. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / POOL / AFP

“The economy is bouncing back from the recession, driven by a rebound in demand across Europe,” EU executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“But we are not out of the woods yet. The economic outlook remains riddled with uncertainty,” he said, warning that the coronavirus is still spreading, prices are rising and supply chains face disruption.

Despite these unpredictable threats, European officials predict a strong recovery, and want eurozone governments to maintain their “moderately supportive fiscal stance” to support investment.

EXPLAINED: How Italy’s proposed new budget could affect you

Italy, however, remains a worry. Its public debt passed 155 percent of its GDP last year, and Brussels is worried that it is still budgeting to spend too much next year.

“In order to contribute to the pursuit of a prudent fiscal policy, the Commission invites Italy to take the necessary measures within the national budgetary process to limit the growth of nationally financed current expenditure,” the commission report said.

The commission did not say by how much Italy’s spending plans should be reduced, and its recommendation is not binding on the government.

The European Union suspended its fiscal discipline rules last year, allowing eurozone members to boost their public spending to help their economies survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the European commissioner for the economy, former Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, said governments should now “gradually pivot fiscal measures towards investments”.

“Policies should be differentiated across the euro area to take into account the state of the recovery and fiscal sustainability,” he said.

“Reducing debt in a growth-friendly manner is not necessarily an oxymoron.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, has said Italy’s economy is recovering after the pandemic-induced recession.

Draghi forecast economic growth this year of “probably well over six percent” in a statement on October 28th.

Italy’s GDP rate grew by 2.6% in the third quarter of 2021.

While economists don’t expect Italian GDP to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels until 2022, ratings agency Standard & Poor has revised its outlook for Italian debt from stable to positive.