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Spain and Portugal brace for wildfires amid forecasts for a scorching heatwave

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By AP with Euronews
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A woman fans herself in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
A woman fans herself in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP / Paul White
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Spain and Portugal are bracing for wildfires in the coming days with temperatures forecast to exceed 40°C on the Iberian peninsula.

Portugal’s prime minister warned on Wednesday that the hot weather increases the threat of blazes, which in 2017 killed more than 100 people in his country.

Spain’s weather service forecast a heatwave until Monday and said the mercury could surpass 44°C in some areas.

In Madrid, the temperature has already reached 38°C. Almost all areas of Spain are on high alert for wildfires, except for the northwest.

Near the town of Massaluca in the Tarragona region south of Barcelona, 18 firefighters ground crews and five aerial ones managed to stabilise a blaze on Thursday.

The fire has burned 75 hectares and forced the evacuation of a camping site.

Firefighters will maintain a device with 11 water trucks and a health unit.

Authorities in Catalonia have banned camping in forests and sporting activities in rural areas on Thursday, in a bid to reduce the risk of wildfires. The use of some farm equipment during the hotter hours of the day is also prohibited.

Forecasters say Saturday is likely to see the peak in temperatures.

A recent heatwave across southern Europe - fed by hot air from North Africa - contributed to massive wildfires breaking out in Turkey, Greece, Algeria and elsewhere in the Mediterranean region.

The heatwave comes after a landmark UN report this week stated that it is "unequivocal" that human activity has caused global warming.

“The maximum and minimum temperatures will reach levels far above the normal for this time of the year,” Spain’s weather service, AEMET, said in a “special weather warning”.

Scientists say climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is undisputedly driving extreme events.

Such peaks of temperature are not unusual in Spain and Portugal during the summer months. Even so, scientists say climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is undisputedly driving extreme events, such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.

Researchers can directly link a single event to climate change only through intensive data analysis, but they say such calamities are expected to happen more frequently on our warming planet.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa urged people to take special care amid the scorching weather and wildfire danger, adding that many wildfires start with careless behaviour.

Costa said “the terrible images” from Greece and Turkey in recent days brought back Portuguese memories of 2017.

“We don’t want to see that scenario here again,” Costa said in a videotaped message at his official residence.

Portuguese authorities say they can deploy more than 12,000 firefighters, some 2,700 vehicles and 60 aircraft during the summer season.

Portugal has in recent years reduced by more than half the number of wildfires and amount of charred acreage compared with the average of the previous 10 years, according to the Agency for Integrated Wildfire Management, a government body.

Authorities enacted a broad range of measures after 2017. They included better forest management, including woodland clearance projects and technical support for people living in rural areas, opening thousands of kilometres of firebreaks and reacting more rapidly to outbreaks with special firefighting units.