Europeans yesterday braced for the expected peak of a sweltering heatwave that has sent temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), with schools in France closing and wildfires in Spain spinning out of control.
Governments warned citizens to take extra precautions, with the high temperatures also causing a build-up of pollution, and emergency calls to hospitals increased.
Exceptional for arriving so early in summer, the heatwave was on Thursday and Friday likely send thermometers above 40C in France, Spain and Greece.
A forest fire in Torre del Espanol in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region raged out of control, devouring land despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters who worked through the night.
In the Italian city of Milan, a 72-year-old homeless man was found dead at the main train station after falling ill due to the heatwave, the local authorities said.
Across Europe people frolicked in fountains to stay cool while zookeepers handed out cakes of ice packed with fish, mango or cherries to keep the animals cool.
French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said people had to be prepared for the peak of the heatwave and expressed irritation that some appeared not to be taking the advice on board.
Some four days into the heatwave, Buzyn said French authorities were seeing an increase in the number of calls to emergency services and that she was concerned there would be an influx of people going to hospital.
The average maximum temperature recorded Wednesday in France of 34.9 C was already a record for the month of June, said state weather forecaster Meteo France. Even higher temperatures are expected today, where areas in the south could see peaks of 42 to 44 C.
Germany on Wednesday saw its June temperature record broken, with a 38.6 C reading in Coschen, near the Polish border, breaking a previous record dating back to 1947.
Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such scorchers more frequent.
“Global temperatures are increasing due to climate change,” said Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at the University of Reading in Britain.
“The global rise in temperatures means the probability that an extreme heatwave will occur is also increasing.”