The firefighters will be able – a little – to breathe. The situation improved significantly on Thursday on the fire front both in France and in Portugal and Spain, where a large fire was stabilized in the northeast. In France, the two fires which have destroyed 20,800 hectares of forest in Gironde (south-west) for 10 days and led to the evacuation of more than 36,000 people have not progressed, firefighters are still dealing with a few resumptions of fire, indicated local authorities.
The day before, the approximately 2,000 firefighters engaged had managed to stop the spread thanks to more favorable weather, with lower temperatures and more humid air. About 6,000 residents of the nearly 36,750 evacuees were allowed to return to their homes on Thursday, according to the prefecture.
In Spain, the Ateca fire in Aragon (northeast) evolved “very favorably” in the afternoon, the regional government said on Twitter. This fire, which broke out on Monday, covers an area of 14,000 hectares and led to the evacuation of 1,700 people, who now have the right to return home. “It is now stabilized but that does not mean that it is extinct”, underlined the regional councilor in charge of the environment, Joaquín Olona, calling for “caution”.
The section of the A2 motorway, linking Madrid to Barcelona, which had to be cut because of the flames, was reopened to traffic on Thursday morning.
Improvement in Portugal
The fire in the province of Zamora (north-west), which resulted in the death of a firefighter and a shepherd on Sunday and Monday, was also controlled and the 6,000 affected inhabitants were able to return to their homes, indicated the Castile and Leon region.
The Iberian Peninsula has been swept in recent days by a wave of devastating fires, favored by the heat wave that lasted from July 9 to 18. It could be the most extreme ever recorded in Spain, according to provisional data from the Spanish Meteorological Agency (Aemet).
Portugal also experienced a lull on Thursday. “We have passed the most critical phase,” Interior Minister José Luis Carneiro told public television RTP.
“Everything seems to indicate an improvement in the coming days,” he added.
A burned area already greater than all of 2021
In addition, in eastern Europe, in Slovenia, a thousand firefighters continued to fight against a fire, which had burned Thursday evening more than 2,000 hectares and caused the temporary evacuation of hundreds of residents. It is the biggest fire since the independence in 1991 of this small country from the former Yugoslavia.
The forest fires that have raged in Europe in recent weeks have already affected more area than during the whole of 2021, according to the European specialized monitoring service. In the 27 countries of the European Union, they have ravaged a total of 517,881 hectares since the beginning of the year (figures from July 16).
Nearly 40,000 hectares burned in France over the period, compared to just over 30,000 for the whole of 2021, more than 190,000 hectares in Spain, compared to almost 85,000 in 2021, and more than 46,000 in Portugal compared to more than 25,000 in 2021 .