Extreme weather: Roads close, ‘frightening’ fires break out and drought sets in as Portugal’s temperatures climb towards 46C

16th July, 2022.      //   Climate Change  // 

A local resident uses a bucket to try to stop a forest fire from reaching houses in the village of Figueiras, outside Leiria, central Portugal, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Hundreds of firefighters in Portugal continue to battle fires in the center of the country that forced the evacuation of dozens of people from their homes mostly in villages around Santarem, Leiria and Pombal. (AP Photo/Joao Henriques)

Standing in the forested hills north of Lisbon feels like standing in an oven. Thermometer showed 43C (109.4F) at around midday as a hot, bone dry wind whipped ash into faces.

 A team of firefighters followed as the people scrambled to dampen down flames burning through the drought-parched trees and scrub. The heat must have been unbearable for them in their heavy suits, lumbering up and down steep and rocky hillsides. Stoic residents looked on, as dogs yapped in cages and a beautiful white horse paced nervously in its enclosure.

 The last few days have been awful for the people who live in the small communities that dot this area.
 He said: “We opened the gate and we saw everything burning.”I used a tractor with water in it to extinguish the flames.” He shrugs, looking tired, and adds: “I’m sad.

“What can we do? Nothing. It’s the third time this has happened.”

Like other locals, he says the fire season is getting longer and more severe.

Local homeowner Feliciano Liberal told me he has three properties that have only just escaped being burned down.

Much of the country is experiencing drought, turning the vegetation into kindling for the fires being fuelled by soaring temperatures. As emergency services battled to stay in control on Tuesday, evacuations were ordered, a major motorway was shut down, and significant festivals were moved to cooler locations.

Portugal’s prime minister had already issued a grim warning that things are likely to get worse in the coming days, as temperatures climb towards 46C (114.8F) in some parts of the country.

Climate change being blamed

Manuel Santos, who is second in command of the firefighting operation in the region north of Lisbon, said: “There is an extensive area that is already burned.

“The temperature is rising and we are worried.

“We are working to try to minimise the pain of the people.”

Commander Santos blames climate change for making things worse.

Scientists agree that as our world warms it is driving increasingly frequent, increasingly severe weather events. For some that means unusual rain or storms, but in Europe, particularly in the south, it seems to mean punishing, extended periods of almost unliveable heat. People will adapt as they always do, but it is deeply unpleasant, and in Portugal today, it was frightening.

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