European infrastructure tested as temperatures surpass record highs

Critical infrastructure across Europe was tested to the brink this week as the heatwave continued, bringing record temperatures and once again bringing the climate crisis debate into sharp focus.

London’s Heathrow airport hit 40.2 degrees Celsius on Tuesday afternoon (19 July), according to the UK’s Met Office, which warned that temperatures would likely keep rising in many places. 

Network Rail told passengers on Tuesday not to travel north out of London to a weather “red zone,” warning that rails could buckle under the brutal temperatures. The train issues also spilled over to the aviation sector with services to London’s Luton and Gatwick airports cancelled.

The current heat wave has sparked deadly wildfires in Spain, Portugal and France.

Forest fires continued to rage in southwestern France, with Paris also set to exceed 40 degrees Celsius.

More than 34,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the past week in the Gironde region where 19,300 hectares have burned so far, according to regional authorities. 

Authorities warned there was a high risk of further fires in the southeast of the country later this week with the expected arrival of the Mistral wind in the Rhone valley.

Among places that saw record temperatures at the start of the week, Brest, on the tip of Brittany on the north-western coast, smashed a previous high of 35.1 Celsius, reaching 39.3 degrees on Monday, according to Meteo France.

In Italy, amid an extreme drought, which has caused the Po river to drop to its lowest level in 70 years, officials are warning of risks to food production.

Italy’s health ministry said at least nine Italian cities, including Rome and Florence, will be on “red alert” today, with temperatures regarded as a serious threat to the health of the entire population and not merely of the most vulnerable.

In the Netherlands, the meteorology institute declared code orange, warning the southern and central parts of the country “will be very hot.” Amsterdam was forecast to hit 37 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.

Spain’s state-owned train operator Renfe interrupted the fast train service between Madrid and the north-western region of Galicia as fires burnt close to the rails. 

Over 30 fires were still burning in Spain as of 19 July, 20 of which remained out of control. Firefighters were able to contain some of the worst blazes in the Extremadura region, but most of the country remains on high or very extreme wildfire alert, according to Europe’s Earth observation agency Copernicus.

A total of 134,168 hectares of land have burnt this year in Spain, according to Copernicus data through to 16 July: more than six times the average for the past 16 years.

More than 34,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in the past week in the Gironde region where 19,300 hectares have burned so far, according to regional authorities.

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