Wildfires are spreading on the Italian island of Sardinia, and elsewhere in southern Europe, fueled by wind and dry weather – adding to a list of travails that have plagued the continent over the summer, including high temperatures, dry spells and drenching rains.
The fires come as rains wreak havoc to the north. Germany is grappling with the aftermath of flooding that devastated entire towns with little warning. In London, extreme rain beginning Sunday, following a heat wave, barreled the city, flooding roads, hospitals and train stations.
Authorities in Sardinia declared a state of emergency on Sunday as fires tore through tens of thousands of acres and forced some 1,500 people to evacuate.
Christian Solinas, the president of the Sardinia region, called the wildfires “an unprecedented disaster,” Euronews reported.
He requested firefighting planes and additional assistance from Europe. France and Greece have sent four specialized planes used to drop water on flames.
“Ten thousand hectares of vegetation destroyed, businesses and houses burned, livestock killed,” Solinas said in a statement translated by Euronews.
Elsewhere in Europe, other fires and rains are raging days after floods subsumed houses and streets in Germany and Belgium, leaving over 200 people dead.
In northeast Spain’s woodland rural areas, wildfires broke out Saturday evening, burning through over 3,000 acres in an area about 62 miles west of Barcelona.
Authorities evacuated a summer camp in the blazes’ vicinity as they hastened to prevent the fires from reaching more inhabited areas.
“We are in a critical moment,” Catalonia’s regional President Pere Aragonès said, the Associated Press reported. “We must avoid any risky behavior that could force us to divert resources to other emergencies.”
Another large fire tore through dry forests Saturday in southern France.
Weather varies according to many factors, buts scientists say that extreme weather that drives fires and floods is becoming increasingly frequent due to the effects of climate change.
The fires come on the heels of a climate-focused meeting Friday among environment and energy ministers from the Group of 20 in Naples. There the United Nation’s top climate change official urged the representatives of the world’s major economies to do more to cut greenhouse gases to stave off even further environmental damage.
Similar warnings were issued by the European Environment Agency last month.
“Climate change projections suggest substantial warming and increases in the number of heat waves, droughts and dry spells across most of the Mediterranean area and more generally in southern Europe, which would increase the length and severity of the fire season, the area at risk and the probability of large fires, possibly enhancing desertification,” according to an assessment published last month by the Copenhagen-based European agency.
Flooding is just as much of a risk.
On Sunday, Londoners were hit with almost a month’s worth of rain within a few hours.
Thundershowers caused widespread travel disruption, flooding roads and subway stations. At least two hospitals in the British capital asked patients requiring urgent treatment to stay away.
It was the second time in less than a month that London was hit hard by heavy rainfall. The latest downpour came at the end of a heat wave that saw the United Kingdom reach its hottest temperatures this year – 89.97 degrees – at Heathrow Airport in west London.
The wettest part of the United Kingdom on Sunday was St. James’s Park, an expansive green opposite Buckingham Palace, where over 1½ inches of rain fell within hours – almost a month’s worth of rainfall.
In one post on social media, a subway station in east London was nearly submerged by water.
The London Fire Brigade responded to more than 1,000 flood-related calls and its staff helped to rescue people from their cars and homes.
The heavy rainfall caused flooding and a power outage at Whipps Cross Hospital in east London, which diverted ambulances and canceled planned surgeries. Newham Hospital, also in east London, suffered some flooding and urged people to seek emergency care elsewhere.
“Summer thunderstorms are not a new occurrence, but it is becoming ever clearer that the worsening impacts of flooding from intense rainfall are having devastating effects here in the United Kingdom and across Europe,” Jess Neumann, a hydrologist at University of Reading, told The Washington Post.
“Although it is not possible to attribute a single event to climate change, what we do know is that a warming atmosphere can hold more moisture and we are seeing an increasing number of storm events leading to flooding, with rainfall records being broken time and time again,” Neumann continued. “The severity and frequency of flooding is a stark warning that we are not prepared to deal with climate change.”