Heat Wave Edges Higher in Southern Europe, Fuels Wildfires

ROME — Intense heat baking Italy pushed northward towards the popular tourist destination of Florence Friday while wildfires charred the country's south, and Spain appeared headed for an all-time record high temperature as a heat wave kept southern Europe in a fiery grip.

Italy saw temperatures in places upwards of 40 C (104 F), Rome remained broiling and health alerts were issued for Florence and Bologna for Friday and Saturday.

Giancarlo Penza, of the Rome-based Catholic charity Sant'Egidio Community, warned in an appeal on state TV that the most vulnerable in such weather are elderly people living alone and the homeless. 

"(The latter) are the persons who are invisible, who live on the street," Penza said. "Knock on the door of an older person" who lives alone, next door, or "stop someone on the street" without a home and ask if they need help, he urged Italians.

Many southern European countries have suffered days of intense heat, accompanied by deadly wildfires in Algeria, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

While the area is known for its sunny, hot summers, scientists voice little doubt that  climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events such as heat waves, droughts and wildfires. Such hardships are likely to happen more frequently as Earth continues to warm, they say.

Italian Premier Mario Draghi sent his emergency chief to Calabria in the south, where blazes burning for days in the rugged Aspromonte forest have claimed four lives. 

Draghi pledged government aid for those losing property or businesses and an "extraordinary plan of reforestation." 

Wildfires on the Italian island of Sardinia were reported largely contained, but a blaze early Friday near Tivoli in the countryside east of Rome forced the overnight evacuation of 25 families. Tivoli's 16th-centruy Villa d'Este and the ancient ruins of Hadrian's Villa are popular tourist attractions. 

Italian firefighters were also battling blazes near Mount Etna, the volcano in Sicily which for months has been belching flames and lava. Authorities said fires erupted in separate locations in the woods, raising suspicions they were caused by people, either deliberately or by accident.

On Greece's second-largest island of Evia, where devastating blazes in the wake of an exceptional heat wave this summer have been described as the nation's worst ecological disaster in decades, a fresh fire broke out on Friday. 

Spain was bracing for even hotter weather going into the weekend. A high of 44 C (111 F) was forecast on Friday, and temperatures as high as 47 C (116.60 F) in the south on Saturday. That would break a national record of 46.9 C (116.4 F), set in Cordoba in July 2017.

On Wednesday, the Italian town of Floridia near the city of Syracuse in Sicily reported a temperature reading of 48.8 C (119.8F) . 

On Friday, a World Meteorological Organization official said at a briefing in Geneva that it could take a month or two to verify the reading and determine if it's indeed a record for continental Europe, topping the previous 48 C set in Athens in 1977.

Temperatures in Portugal on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were forecast to climb into the 40s C. In much of the country, due to a significantly increased risk for wildfires, the public has been barred from entering forested areas and is banned from using fireworks or farm machinery that could cause sparks.

In Serbia, the army has deployed water tanks and authorities have appealed to residents to avoid watering gardens. A weeks-long drought is worrying cattle owners, particularly in remote villages in hilly areas.


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