ATHENS/ISTANBUL – More searing temperatures fuelled wildfires and prompted health warnings across Europe on Wednesday, as a blaze in Türkiye forced the closure of the Dardanelles shipping lane and winds fanned the flames in Greece where 20 people have already been killed.
France, which widened its heatwave red alert in the south of the country, said it would scale back production at a nuclear power plant as high temperatures curbed cooling water supply.
In Greece, firefighters were battling a blaze for a second day close to Athens and the authorities warned that heat and winds risked fuelling more wildfires, a day after 18 bodies, probably migrants, were found in a charred northern forest.
A wildfire erupted on Tuesday has smothered the capital in smoke and ash, spreading to the town of Menidi, where about 150 people were evacuated by bus from three nursing homes.
Another 700 people were moved from a migrant camp in the Amygdaleza region, about 25 km (16 miles) north of Athens, a Migration Ministry official said.
Firefighters supported by aircraft, some sent by other European states, were struggling to contain the fire which incinerated homes and cars in the village of Fyli. Residents had fled on foot, covering their faces to avoid the smoke, while volunteers loaded sheep in the area into cars to save them.
Greek Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said 355 wildfires had broken out since Friday, with 209 new blazes in the last 48 hours alone.
Near the northeastern Greek port city of Alexandroupolis, the sky was turned orange by a blaze as the authorities tried to identify the 18 bodies discovered in Dadia forest in the Evros region on Türkiye’s border, a common route for migrants from the Middle East and Asia trying to cross into the European Union.
On the Turkish side, the authorities temporarily closed the Dardanelles Strait to shipping, creating a queue of 100 cargo ships, to allow helicopters and planes to scoop up water to douse a forest fire in the area that has raged for two days.
The strait, linking the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, is a major shipping route for commodities such as oil and grains.
A Turkish goat herder had told people by mobile to flee a wildfire threatening a village in Türkiye’s northwestern Canakkale province: “Let it burn if you must. Just get out of the village, don’t stay there any longer.”
The French national weather service, Meteo-France, reported the country’s highest average temperature for the late summer period after Aug. 15 since records began in 1947. It said some areas of southern France would experience temperatures of 42 degree Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).
The authorities widened a heatwave red alert for the south of the country, while officials urged some mountain climbers to postpone their activities and told grape pickers to work in the morning to avoid the extreme heat.
French power producer EDF issued a production warning for the Saint Alban nuclear power plant on the Rhone river because of a shortage of cooling water. Similar warnings have been issued this summer for other plants.
In Spain, which is enduring its fourth heatwave of the summer, people who normally receive food and other necessities from the non-governmental organisation Fundacion Madrina were also handed fans on Wednesday to cope with high temperatures.
Firefighters on the Spanish island of Tenerife have brought a blaze that has devastated forests under control, allowing about 8,000 evacuees to return.
But local farmers protested about the use of scarce water resources to fight the blaze and police said they had arrested an 80-year-old man for throwing stones at a firefighting helicopter, forcing it to make an emergency landing.
Italy issued heatwave red alerts about “emergency conditions” that the health ministry says could endanger the healthy as well as the frail in 17 of its 27 main cities for Wednesday and Thursday, including Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice. The number was set to rise to 19 on Friday.