Wildfires spread, fish die amid severe drought in Europe

PARIS (AP) — Firefighters across Europe battled Thursday to contain a huge wildfire in France that swept through a wide swath of pine forest, while Germans and Poles faced mass death of fish in a river that flows between their countries.

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

The drought is leading to a loss of agricultural produce and other foodstuffs at a time when supply shortages and Russia’s war on Ukraine have caused inflation to spike.

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

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

Along the Oder, which flows from northern Czechia into the Baltic Sea, volunteers picked up dead fish that washed up in Poland and Germany.

Piotr Nieznanski, director of conservation policy at WWF Poland, said it appears a toxic chemical has been released into the water by an industry and low water levels caused by drought have made the much more dangerous conditions for fish.

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

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

Poland’s national water management body said drought and high temperatures can cause even small amounts of pollution and lead to ecological disaster, but it did not identify the source of the pollution.

In northern Serbia, the dry bed of the Conopljankso reservoir is now littered with dead fish that did not survive the drought.

The water level along the German Rhine was in danger of falling so low that it could become difficult to transport goods, including essential energy products like coal and gasoline.

A national park in Portugal’s highest range of hills, the Serra da Estrela, was also ravaged by a forest fire. Some 1,500 firefighters, 476 vehicles and 12 aircraft were deployed to battle it, but the wind-driven blaze 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Lisbon was very difficult to reach, with peaks inaccessible from close range. 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) high and deep ravines. The fire charred 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of woodland.

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

It was one of the driest summers on record for southern Britain, and the Met Office meteorological service said there is an “exceptional risk” of wildfires over the next few days.

London firefighters said their control room dealt with 340 grass, rubbish and open ground fires in the first week of August, eight times the number last year. Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith said ‘the grass in London is as dry as a powder keg and the smallest of sparks could ignite a fire which could cause havoc’.

In Switzerland, drought and high temperatures have endangered fish populations and authorities have started moving fish from some drying up creeks.

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

Despite all the damage caused by the extreme weather, Swiss authorities see a morbid upside: they believe there is hope of finding people who have gone missing in the mountains in recent years because their bodies are freed as the glaciers are melting.

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

Spanish public television showed that dozens of trucks heading 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 carrying perishable goods, were looking for ways to cross the border as parking areas around the Irun crossing were full.

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

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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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Follow all AP climate change stories at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

Mary I. Bruner