France was on high alert on Monday as the peak of a heat wave gripped the country, while wildfires raging through parts of southwestern Europe showed no signs of abating.
Meteorologists have put 15 French departments on the highest alert status for extreme temperatures, as neighboring Britain was poised to set new heat records next week.
The heat wave is the second to hit parts of southwestern Europe in weeks, and fires burning in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land and forced thousands of residents and tourists to flee.
Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather, such as heat waves and drought.
In the French Landes forest, in the southwestern region of Aquitaine, temperatures “will exceed 42 degrees Celsius,” meteorologist Olivier Proust said on Monday.
And Britain, which until recently escaped the worst of the heat, could see temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius, experts say, which would be a record for the region.
In the southwestern Gironde region, firefighters continued to battle over the weekend to control wildfires that have engulfed nearly 11,000 hectares since Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Spanish authorities have reported that around 20 forest fires are still burning out of control in different parts of the country from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where the flames have destroyed around 4,500 hectares of land.
Fires have already killed several civilians and emergency personnel since last week, most recently a firefighter who died on Sunday night while battling a blaze in northwestern Spain.
A heat apocalypse
Forest fires in France forced more than 16,000 people, residents and tourists combined, to leave the camp. Seven emergency shelters have been set up for the evacuees.
The French Ministry of the Interior announced that it would send three additional firefighting planes, 200 firefighters and more trucks.
“In some areas of the southwest, it will be a heat apocalypse,” meteorologist Francois Gourand told AFP.
The chapel of a historic hospital in the southeastern city of Lyon, Grand Hotel Dieu, offered shelter to tourists on Sunday, including Jean-Marc, 51, who was visiting from Alsace.
“We come back to admire the place, but we can’t leave, it’s too hot outside. We say a prayer before the fire!” she joked.
French cyclist Mikael Cherel, who took part in the 15th stage of the Tour de France between Rodez and Carcassonne in the south of France on Sunday, described “very, very difficult conditions”.
“I’ve never known such a hot day on a bike. It really wasn’t a field day.”
‘Risk to life’ in the UK
In Spain, firefighters managed to stabilize a forest fire that devastated 2,000 hectares of forest and bush in the southern region of Andalusia, regional leader Juan Manuel Moreno said.
The fire started on Friday in the Mijas mountains inland from the southern coastal city of Malaga and prompted the evacuation of some 3,000 people.
Since then, some 2,000 people had returned to their homes and now that the fire has stabilized, Moreno said the remaining evacuees could do the same.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is due to visit the hard-hit eastern region of Extremadura on Monday, where several fires have been raging for days.
In Portugal, almost the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, after reaching 47°C, a record for the month of July, on Thursday.
Only one large fire was burning on Sunday in the north.
The fires have killed two, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.
In the UK, the weather office issued the first “red” warning of extreme heat, warning there was a “risk to life”.
The Met Office said temperatures in the south of England could top 40C on Monday or Tuesday for the first time, prompting some schools to say they will remain closed next week.
The mercury is expected to reach 38C in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday.