Euro Death Toll Rises With Temps

Crowds flock to a beach in Valencia in south eastern Spain, Thursday Aug. 7, 2003, at the beginning of the traditional August summer holidays. A heatwave is currently hitting the Iberian peninsula.
Forecasters offered little hope of relief Friday for Europeans baking in a heat wave that is blamed for dozens of deaths and wildfires that have forced hundreds of people to flee.

In Italy, where temperatures climbed well into the 90s yet again, hundreds of firefighters continued to battle a blaze raging for days around Savona, on the northwestern Riviera.

The fire forced a 5-mile stretch of highway to close for four hours in both directions, said Riccardo Sette of the Savona firefighters.

Hundreds of people have fled their homes or have been evacuated as a precaution.

Smaller fires still raged in other parts of the country, including along the southern Amalfi coast near Sorrento. Investigators believe arson was to blame for most of those fires.

Two elderly women and a man died Thursday of heat stroke in Spain, and the country increased the number of fatalities blamed on the hot weather to 19, officials said. About 40 deaths have been blamed on the sizzling temperatures around Europe.

Spanish authorities said about 1,600 people were evacuated from a campground and several villas in the northeast when a forest fire spread through surrounding hills. Most blazes that have whipped through in central Spain in recent days were either out or under control.

The death toll from forest fires in Portugal rose to 15 after a woman was found burned to death near a charred forest in the northern Braga region. The fires have burned 400,300 acres, mostly in the last three weeks.

Blazes fanned by hot winds near the French Riviera and in Corsica killed five people last week.

The heat has been blamed on intense monsoon activity in Africa south of the Sahara funneling hot desert air over Europe and blocking cooler Atlantic air.

Weather experts from Italy's state-funded CNR research center called the heat wave one of the five worst in the last 150 years and said it would likely last until next month.

Electricity consumption in Spain rose 16.6 percent in the first week of August as people cranked up air conditioners and fans, according to grid operator REE.

The southwest city of Badajoz registered its highest temperature in 50 years on Thursday, 112.6, and the National Weather Service said next week would be just as bad.

After a slight respite Wednesday, London was also looking at another hot, dry day with temperatures forecast above 86.

A trade group said an extra 3 million pints of beer could be downed across Britain if the sunshine lasts through the weekend.

"The more the sun shines, the bigger the smile on the faces of the nation's brewers and (pub) landlords," said Mark Hastings, spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association. "While this boost to business is great news, we would also urge people to take it easy."

Belgians headed to the North Sea shore to take advantage of significantly cooler temperatures. Day visitors were up nearly 20 percent in July, tourism officials said.

The Royal Meteorological Institute predicted temperatures ranging from 73 at the coast to 98 on the southern border with France. Forecasts through Monday called for more of the same, with the odd thundershower providing a brief respite.

With fans in scarce supply, police in Brussels warned that criminals were moving in with shoddy, overpriced supplies.

Officers seized fans imported from Asia that were to be shipped to France this week. The two trucks attracted attention because they were blocking a street, and as police approached, one of the truck drivers ran away.

The other was caught but released after police determined he knew nothing about the substandard cargo. The fans had insufficient protection around the blades and unsafe wiring, and were being sold at a huge markup.