Dry as tinder have been the forests of Portugal and Spain this year. Ditto for those in Bordeaux just a little further north in France, and thousands of civilians have been forced to evacuate.
The French have resorted to a (European) Union Mechanism and asked participating states to send personnel to assist in extinguishing the fires for the persisting high temperatures predicted forced their hand.
The Austrians have already responded and 76 trained firefighters and their equipment, transferred by air, are already helping. The Deputy Governor of Lower Austria, Herr Stephan Pernkopf reminded citizens of Austria’s largest forest fire in Hirschwang an der Rax in the autumn of last year. At that time 115 hectares of forest were affected, in France it’s about 6000 hectares — that’s an ‘inferno’.
In addition to Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Sweden have sent help to France, which is grateful for it.
In Italy, Lake Garda, the country’s largest lake has seen water drop to a 15-year low, the River Poe, its longest, is down to 30 cm of water in places and the area surrounding has been tinder dry as everyone waited for some rain. And the River Doubs on the French-Swiss border has been so dried up that the receding water left boats stranded on the river bed. The drought has been one of the most severe in decades.
The relief from the drought finally came but unlike Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’, it has not ‘droppeth as a gentle rain beneath’ but in the form of severe storms in the region causing floods and deaths in Austria, Italy and the French island of Corsica. These included both fishermen and holiday makers like an unlucky girl crushed by a tree falling at a campsite. Ending a nightmarish holiday, some 13,000 people had to be evacuated and given shelter in public buildings.
Falling trees have caused casualties in Austria also. Two girls aged four and eight were killed near a lake in Carinthia and three women in Lower Austria. The local mayor said the area resembled a battlefield after the storm.
And in Italy a man and a woman died in separate incidents in Tuscany from uprooted trees. Also in Italy, high winds blew cafe umbrellas across St Mark’s square and dislodged brickwork from the basilica bell tower.
The simple fact is that higher temperatures evaporate more water, which rises to become clouds and then rain, resulting in heavier rainfall and storms.
Across the Mediterranean, Algeria too has been suffering extreme heat and drought and at least 42 people have been killed in forest fires. Officials report at least 39 fires still ravaging various parts of northern Algeria with the possibility of hot winds spreading the flames further. Since the beginning of August, 106 fires have been recorded which have destroyed 800 hectares of forest and 1800 hectares of woodlands.
Scientists increasingly blame global warming on humans. The warming in turn increases the frequency of extreme weather events. It is thus up to us and our governments to cut back on emissions … possibly through real consequences for emitters who often consider fines just a cost of doing business.