Europe battles wildfires, drought and scorching temperatures as heatwave drags on

Portugal and Spain were sweltering Saturday under an intense heat wave that has produced near-record temperatures in the southern European countries and contributed to wildfires and drought from Greece to Sweden. 

Portugal has issued red alerts for extreme heat for more than half the country, with thermometers approaching 46 C. The country's highest ever recorded temperature was 47.4 C in 2003. The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48 C, set in Athens in 1977. 

The hot, dry conditions have led to several wildfires in Portugal.

Nearly 700 firefighters and 10 water-dumping aircraft are fighting the biggest outbreak, which has burned nearly 1,000 hectacres near the town of Monchique in the southern Algarve region, an area popular with tourists.

"It's a very serious situation of extreme heat," Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa warned.

Spain also issued warnings of extreme heat for its southern areas with temperatures expected to reach 45 C in the cities of Sevilla, Huelva, Badajoz and Cordoba. Spain's all-time record of 46.9 C was set in Cordoba in July 2017.

Tourists cool off at a fountain during the heatwave at the Virgin Square in Valencia, Spain. (Heino Kalis/Reuters)

High temperatures contributed to the deaths of two men Friday in Spain, one in Barcelona and the other in the southeastern region of Murcia, according to Spanish authorities.

The hot air mass coming in from Africa has caused the most severe heatwave in Iberia since 2003, one of the worst years on record for wildfires. It is also bringing dust from the Sahara Desert, which makes the sky a dark yellow or dusky orange in places but also subdues maximum temperatures slightly. 

The Spanish military assisted emergency services fighting a wildfire in Nerva, southern Spain, on Friday and Saturday, but the blaze was now stabilized, emergency services said.  Two people were injured and six homes damaged in a separate forest fire near Madrid on Friday, they said.

The longest drought in decades has been drying out rivers in the Netherlands and affecting farmers in Germany. Wheat fields have been devastated across northern Europe, driving up prices.

In Scandinavia, temperatures hit records until a few days ago. In Sweden, July was a record hot month and wildfires burnt in parts of the country. Temperatures approached 30 C this week in Finland, where the August average is 19 C.

Authorities on both sides of the Baltic Sea, in Sweden and Poland, have warned against swimming due to a huge bloom of toxic algae spreading because of hot temperatures.

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