Forest fires spread, fish die during severe drought in Europe

PARIS (AP) – Firefighters from across Europe battled Thursday to contain a huge wildfire in France that has swept through a vast patch of pine forest, while Germans and Poles grappled with a mass of dead fish in a river that runs between their countries.

Europe is suffering from a severe heat wave and drought which has had tragic consequences for farmers and ecosystems already threatened by climate change and pollution.

The drought is leading to the loss of agricultural products and other food at a time when supply shortages and Russia’s war on Ukraine have caused inflation to rise.

In France, which is suffering its worst drought on record, flames tore through pine forests overnight, lighting up the sky with an intense orange light in the Gironde region, already ravaged by flames last month, and in neighboring Landes. More than 68 square kilometers (26 square miles) have burned since Tuesday.

The French forest fires have already forced the evacuation of around 10,000 people and destroyed at least 16 houses.

Along the Oder River, which flows from the Czech Republic north into the Baltic Sea, volunteers have collected dead fish that have washed ashore in Poland and Germany.

Piotr Nieznanski, conservation policy director at WWF Poland, said it appears that a toxic chemical was released into the water by an industry and the low water level caused by the drought has made conditions far more dangerous for the fish.

“A tragic incident is happening along the Oder River, an international river, and there is no transparent information about what is happening,” he said, calling on authorities to investigate.

People living along the river have been warned not to swim in the water or even touch it.

Poland’s state water management agency said the drought and high temperatures could mean even small amounts of pollution could lead to an ecological disaster, but it has not identified the source of the contamination.

In northern Serbia, the dry bed of the Conopljankso reservoir is now full of dead fish that could not survive the drought.

The water level along the Rhine in Germany was in danger of falling so low that it could become difficult to transport goods – including critical energy elements such as coal and petrol.

A national park in Portugal’s highest mountain range, Serra da Estrela, was also ravaged by a forest fire. Around 1,500 firefighters, 476 vehicles and 12 aircraft were deployed to fight it, but the wind-driven blaze 250 kilometers northeast of Lisbon was very difficult to reach, with inaccessible peaks nearly 2,000 meters high and deep ravines. The fire has charred 10,000 hectares of forest.

In Britain, where temperatures reached a record 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in July, the Met Office has issued a new “extreme heat” warning from Thursday to Sunday, with temperatures forecast to reach 36 C (96.8 F).

It has been one of the driest summers on record in southern Britain and the Met Office said there is an “exceptional risk” of bushfires over the next few days.

London Fire Brigade said its control room had dealt with 340 grass, rubbish and open land fires in the first week of August, eight times the number from last year. Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith said “the grass in London is dry in the tinder box and the tiniest sparks can start a fire that can cause devastation.”

In Switzerland, drought and high temperatures have put fish stocks at risk, and the authorities have started to move fish out of some streams that were drying up.

In Hausen, in the canton of Zurich, officials caught hundreds of fish, many of them trout, in the nearly dried up streams of Heischerbach, Juchbach and Muehlebach this week by stunning them with electric shocks and then immediately placing them in a water tank enriched with oxygen, reported local media. Later, the fish were taken to streams that still carry enough water.

Despite all the damage caused by the extreme weather, Swiss authorities see one morbid upside: they believe there is hope of finding some people who went missing in the mountains in recent years because their bodies are released when glaciers melt.

In the Swiss canton of Valais, melting glaciers have recently revealed parts of a crashed plane and, in separate locations, at least two skeletons. The bodies have not yet been identified, the news website 20Minuten reported on Thursday.

Spanish state television showed that dozens of trucks bound for France had to turn around and stay in Spain because forest fires had forced authorities to close some border crossings. TVE reported that truckers, many with perishable goods, were looking for ways to cross the border because the parking lots around the Irun crossing were full.

France this week is in its fourth heatwave of the year facing what the government describes as the country’s worst drought on record. Temperatures were expected to reach 40 C (104 F) on Thursday.


Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed reporting.


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