Forest fire in Estreito da Calheta, Portugal, September 7th, 2016
13 Jul 2022

250 wildfires raging in Portugal - drought and heat waves in Southern Europe - flash floods kills 16 in Kashmir


Thousands of firefighters are struggling to contain more than 250 fires around Portugal. Temperatures in many areas in southern Europe have been above 40 degrees C (104 F) and it is expected to get even hotter in the coming days.

A severe drought is still affecting Portugal, and many other areas in Southern Europe. In Italy the situation for farming is so severe that large harvests are expected to be lost due to low levels of groundwater. 

In Portugal, more than 250 wildfires have been reported in the last week, and the situation for firefighters and civilians coping with the situation has been described as a "virtual hell".   

No deaths were reported as of the beginning the week, however about forty people, both firefighters and civilians, have received medical care for injuries during the fire . Most of the injuries have been heat related, such as breathing difficulties. Around 1,500 firefighters are stationed to fight wildfires in the municipalities of Ourém, Pombal and Carrazeda de Ansiães, writes AFP.

"This year,  however, Portugal is  ´more prepared´ to fight the fires than the deadly wildfire season in 2017, when 60 people lost their lives in the violent fires",  stated by Prime Minister António Costa to the Portuguese newspaper Público.


State of Emergency announced in Portugal
A State of Emergency regarding the risk of fire has been announced in the country. This means the authorities are given increased powers to redirect resources, specifically machines for making firebreaks have been mentioned. 

Heat waves and droughts are not uncommon in Portugal, however climate scientists estimate all of of southern Europe can expect higher temperatures and less rain in the future as a result of global warming.


Deadly drought takes away all hope for many farmers

Parts of southern Europe are now struck by the second heat wave of the year. Extremely hot weather with temperatures up to 43 degrees C / 109 F has been creating problems for both residents and farmers. For Spanish farmers, the heat continues to pose challenges after a spring a pre-summer  which has already been unusually dry.

"Honestly, the future seems pitch black for us", said farmer Buenaventura Gonzalez to local Spanish media..

The oppressive heat that has hit the Iberian Peninsula in recent days is several degrees above the average temperature for the season, writes The Guardian, referring to data from the weather service MetDesk.

The heat is expected to continue rising until at least July 14, with temperatures up to 46 degrees C / 115 F,  in Seville and several other areas.  according to the Spanish Meteorological Institute AEMET.

Earlier in June, Spain experiest the worst heat wave for the time of year in 40 years, according to AEMET, who also states that heat waves in the country have become five times as common in the 2000s compared to earlier decades. 

One of the challenges for farmers in southern Europe is access to water. Farmer Buenaventura Gonzalez  had to dig 80 meters into the ground to access the groundwater.  He feels the future for agriculture on the farm looks bleak:

"If there is no water, there is no life", he says.


Drought brings State of Emergency in Italy

In Italy, the authorities have declared a state of emergency in five regions in the north that have been hit hard by severe drought, leading to the the lowest water levels in 70 years.


Flash floods kills 16 people in Kashmir

Parts of India have recently had to deal with flash floods, after also dealing with heat waves during most of the spring and summer. 

At least 16 people have died and 15,000 have been evacuated from a pilgrimage walk in Kashmir. Indian authorities reported on Monday an extensive rescue operation, where dozens of missing people were found by rescue crews in very difficult weather conditions.

Indian rescue workers relocated thousands of pilgrims after flash floods triggered by sudden rains swept through their campsites during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in the region of Kashmir.

The heavy rains on Friday night created dangerous conditions when water, rocks  and boulders came crashing down into a ravine. The water and the debris also swept away about 24 campsites.

"I saw the water sweeping away men, women, shops and all of our belongings. Everything was buried under the mountain", said pilgrim Ravi Dutt to local media. 

Authorities say 15,000 pilgrims have been relocated to safer places and that at least five dozen injured people received first aid at the hospitals in the base camp set up for the pilgrimage. This  journey undertaken by hundreds of thousands of Hindus from across India every year. 

The pilgrimage to Amarnath began on June 30 and tens of thousands of devotees have already visited the cave shrine where Hindus worship Lingam, a naturally formed ice phallus, as an incarnation of Shiva, the god of destruction and renewal.

This year, almost one million visitors are expected after a two-year hiatus due to the corona pandemic.

It is a somewhat dangerous journey even on a normal year. Hundreds of pilgrims have previously died due to exhaustion and exposure to severe weather during the journey through the icy mountains.

In 1996, thousands of people were caught in a blizzard, leading to more than 250 deaths.