Record-Breaking Heat Broils Britain As Wildfires Rage Across Europe

A day after Britain recorded its highest-ever temperature, train travel remained snarled there while wildfires raged across a drought-stricken Europe.

Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute estimates 678 people died in the country from July 10 to July 17 as a result of high temperatures. That figure includes 60-year-old José Antonio González, a street sweeper in Madrid who died from heat stroke while on the job after temperatures hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday.

Three days later, another Madrid street sweeper was hospitalized for heat stroke, underscoring the burden climate change is already imposing on the most vulnerable parts of society.

“It’s obvious that social inequalities play a part” in how much people suffer during heat waves, Júlio Díaz of Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE, in comments translated by the Associated Press.

“Enduring a heat wave in an air-conditioned house with a swimming pool is not the same as five people in the same room with a window as the only source of fresh air,” he said.

In Portugal, the heat wave is responsible for at least 1,063 deaths, the country’s health chief, Graça Freitas, told Reuters. Temperatures there also registered 104 degrees Fahrenheit last week.

Firefighters and policemen evacuate an elderly woman from her house in Penteli, Greece, on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

That’s a hair shy of Britain’s 104.5 degree Fahrenheit record, reached Tuesday, which shattered the previous record of 101.7, set in 2019.

The U.K. Meteorological Office warned Britons that extreme heat will arrive with more frequency in the future. While extreme heat is possible with natural climate variation, the office said the increase in frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat in recent decades “is clearly linked to the observed warming of the planet and can be attributed to human activity.”

That heat forced London’s Luton Airport to temporarily shut down a runway Monday after high surface temperatures “caused a small section to lift.” Military flights out of the country’s largest air base, Brize Norton, were also halted Monday because the “runway has melted,” a military source told Sky News.

Even as cooler air moved into the country Wednesday, rail travel remained disrupted thanks to heat and fire damage. The London Fire Brigade received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday alone, its busiest day since World War II, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. The department typically fields around 350 calls a day.

Wildfires continue to rage across the European continent, with blazes forcing evacuations in England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Greece.

In Athens, nearly 500 firefighters on Wednesday worked to contain a large wildfire that threatened a hilly suburb northeast of the city, fueled by 50 mph winds and hot, dry conditions that have persisted for weeks.

While conditions are improving in Western Europe, others in the east have yet to escape: Temperatures in Belgrade, Serbia are expected to hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday.

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