Madrid, Jul 16 (EFE).- A firefighting pilot was killed in a crash while tackling a blaze in northern Portugal and the number of heat-related deaths in Spain rose to 237 in recent days as the region continues to grapple Saturday with a ferocious heat wave that is fueling forest fires and threatens to bring record-breaking temperatures to the United Kingdom early next week.
In the grip of extreme temperatures and drought conditions, around 1,400 firefighters were tackling wildfires in Portugal Saturday, where the most intense blazes were concentrated in the north and in the region of Porto.
A 38-year-pilot who had been taking part in an operation to extinguish a fire in Torre de Moncorvo, near the Spanish border in northern Portugal, died when his Fire Boss aircraft came down after collecting water from the Duero river on Friday, Portuguese authorities said.
Prime minister Antonio Costa said he was “dismayed” by the news and expressed his condolences to the pilot’s family.
“To all the operatives who are on the ground, I convey my solidarity and gratitude for their commitment and dedication to fighting the fires that have ravaged our country,” a statement on his official Twitter account said.
Portugal’s Civil Protection unit estimated that 38,000 hectares of land have been scorched by wildfires so far this year, a greater area than that recorded in all of 2021.
In neighboring Spain, health authorities said 237 people had died due to heat-related illness between July 10-14 as weather alerts remained in place for extreme temperatures across the nation.
A street cleaner died while working in the Spanish capital Madrid, where temperatures have hit 40C, city authorities told Efe.
Maximum red alerts have been issued for five Spanish provinces as temperatures are expected to hit 42-44C (108-111F).
A raging wildfire in Mijas, near southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, has forced the preemptive evacuation of over 3,000 people.
Aerial firefighting efforts are being hampered by the dense columns of smoke rising from the blaze that is ripping through vegetation in the mountainous area.
Emergency services are also tackling fires near the Monfrague national park in Extremadura, an important habitat for rare birds, and further north in Castile and Leon and Galicia.
Two wildfires that have engulfed a combined 9,000 hectares of land in southwest France since Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of 12,000 people, continue to burn out of control Saturday.
The blazes, to the south of Bordeaux in the department of Gironde, have destroyed several houses but have claimed no human casualties.
The sweltering mass of air over the region is set to expand northwards, prompting UK authorities to issue a rare red weather warning for unprecedented temperatures as high as 40C in the south and central England on Monday and Tuesday, meaning the heat wave poses a risk to life.