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Wildfires rage in southern Europe

By: Floro Mercene

Extreme weather across southern Europe has fueled thousands of small wildfire and a few large blazes in July and August this year in Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Portugal, and more. The temperatures have soared above 40°C in July, and blazes have broken out across southern Italy and Sicily. Wildfires near the Calampiso seaside resort west of Palermo, the Sicilian capital, forced the evacuation of more than 700 tourists by boat.

Due to high temperatures and dry, windy conditions, about 23 wildfires raged in southern Italy in a day, including on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius near Naples. Smoke billowed across Naples and nearby areas for days, raising fears that the volcano was erupting. Tourists have been advised to stay away.

Wildfires, once confined to a single season, have become a continual threat in places across the globe. Drier winters mean less moisture on the land, and warmer springs are pulling the moisture into the air more quickly, turning shrub, brush and grass into kindling.

Scientists have long theorized that climate change contributed to the longer fire seasons, the growing number and destructiveness of fires and the increasing area of land consumed, though some experts suggest the current fire phenomenon is not just a result of a changing climate, but also fire-suppressing policies practiced for a century or more.

In mid-June, wildfires near Pedrógão Grande in central Portugal killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others.

In one incident, flames spread so quickly that some people died after being trapped in their cars as they tried to drive to safety. Fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares of land in Portugal this year.

Firefighters have tackled more than 10,000 separate fires this year – 2,500 more than the same period in 2016. The exceptional heat and strong winds intensified the scale of the destruction.

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