London Some European countries were still battling the worst bushfires in decades on Wednesday as the United Kingdom awoke to relief after its warmest day ever. As Rami Inocencio, a CBS News correspondent, reported, the flames have tore through dry brush in an area covering thousands of miles from Greece to Portugal.
The widespread heat wave that fueled those fires stretched all the way to Scotland on Tuesday, causing this to happen.Londoners were left shocked to see their town hit by the same kind of bushfires they used to see on the news.
The charred ground and wrecked homes of the British capital were evidence of the fact that even a typically humid and dreary UK, where umbrellas and coats are more common than air conditioners, cannot escape the consequences of a rapidly warming climate.
Rare bushfires blazed and spread across London on Tuesday as much of England grappled with heat in excess of 100 degrees Celsius. A new temperature record was set in the eastern English city of Conningsby at 40.3 degrees Celsius, which is more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
As much of the country had passed a month or more with the rain barely falling, scorching temperatures were all it took to blaze dry grass with matches and brush in backyards and along highways.
The London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since World War II, with firefighters responding to more than 2,600 calls and putting out 12 fires simultaneously, according to Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The mayor said the fires in London had destroyed at least 41 properties, and 16 firefighters had been treated for smoke inhalation or other injuries.
De Ncube and her family fled their burned-out neighborhood in the capital, leaving everything behind. She told Inocencio that the only time she’d seen something like this was in the movies or on TV.
“We have nothing, everything is gone,” Timothy Stock, whose home was among those lost in the village of Winnington in Greater London, told partner BBC News.
Cabinet Minister Kate Malthus told other British parliament members on Wednesday that 13 people had died in the heat wave after they “had difficulty in rivers, reservoirs and lakes swimming in recent days – seven of them teenage boys”.
But while many Londoners were shocked by the sweltering heat, the people studying Earth’s changing climate were not.
“This is it, isn’t it? This is the climate change that scientists have promised us,” Dr. Michel Nachmani, a climate policy expert at the London School of Economics, told CBS News. “This level of severe weather is life-threatening, and we really want to make sure that people don’t have any illusions that this is dangerous, and this is here to stay.”
Climate activists were also keen to highlight Tuesday’s extremes as a warning of danger ahead, and a call to action.
Protesters from a protest group called “Just Stop Oil” climbed onto a metal frame for signs over the M25, one of Britain’s busiest motorways, which surrounds London, causing a long traffic jam on Wednesday morning.
The group said it regretted the disruption to passengers in the morning, but declared the M25 “a site of civil resistance”, and warned that there would be more protests in the coming days.
“This is the moment when climate inaction is truly manifested in all its murderous glory for all to see: as an elite-led death project that would extinguish all life if we allowed it,” He said in a statementannouncing its move and asking the UK government to stop investing in fossil fuel extraction.
Other countries in the south are still battling large fires on Wednesday that broke out last week. Thousands were killed and tens of thousands were evacuated.
Firefighters in southwest France were still battling double blazes that covered a ground twice the size of Paris for the ninth day in a row on Wednesday, but weather conditions there also improved overnight, and officials said they were under control.
“Our assessment is generally positive. The situation has improved overnight,” the Associated Press quoted local fire service spokesman Arno Mendos as saying. President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit the hard-hit Gironde region on Wednesday, where the fires have displaced some 37,000 people from their homes.
Spain and Portugal are still recording new deaths from extreme temperatures and fires, with the death toll already past 1,000.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that “more than 500 people have died due to high temperatures” over the past week or so in his country, citing a statistical analysis by a public health institute.
“I am asking citizens to be very careful,” Sanchez said, adding that “the climate emergency is a reality.”
To the west, police in Greece ran door to door, yelling at residents to flee just north of Athens as the flames approached.
Evacuations continued in Italy as well, where the fires continued to increase and temperatures had not yet begun to subside.
While the worst of the heatwave appeared to be over in much of Western Europe, with temperatures dropping dramatically overnight from northern Britain to southern France, climate experts and activists were desperate to make the point this week. Exception, these exceptions are expected to become more common – and get hotter.