Wildfires are raging across Spain and France stepped up restrictions on water use and city driving as swathes of western Europe swelters through an intense heatwave.
Temperatures climbed towards 44 degrees in parts of northern Spain and southern France on Thursday (local time), driving many people to seek relief in the sea, rivers, lakes, fountains and swimming pools.
Spanish firefighters struggled to douse wildfires across more than 6500 hectares in the north-eastern region of Catalonia, and said the affected area could increase as much as five-fold because of the fierce heat and winds.
Authorities suspected the fire started when high temperatures caused improperly stored chicken manure to spontaneously combust at a farm in the village of Torre de l’Espanyol, Spanish regional interior minister Miquel Buch said.
Television images showed horses and sheep incinerated on a farm in the path of the fire.
Helicopters dumped water on the fires, which raged 80 kilometres inland from the coastal town of Tarragona. There were no reports of casualties, but the regional government said about 45 people had been evacuated from farmhouses in the area.
The wildfires were among the worst in Catalonia in 20 years, the regional government said. Residents were warned to stay inside to avoid inhaling smoke.
Neighbouring France has set a record temperature for the month of June, at 41.9 degrees, a spokeswoman for national weather service Meteo France said.
But that record might not last long, with the heat expected to get worse in coming days.
Authorities extended restrictions on vehicles, already imposed in Paris and Lyon, to Marseille and Strasbourg to try to curb air pollution.
Paris has banned more than half of the cars – generally older, dirtier models – registered in the region, which has nearly six million inhabitants, for the duration of the heatwave. Several cities also reduced speed limits.
Schools have postponed summer exams, and parts of northern France have been put on drought alert, with water supplies to businesses, farmers and ordinary residents restricted. Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has banned transportation of animals until the heatwave has ended.
Grid operator RTE said French electricity demand on Thursday was close to a summer record of two years ago, as people turned on fans and coolers for relief from the scorching temperatures.
“Calls to the emergency services are on the rise nationwide. We are seeing the beginning of a clear impact of the heatwave. For us the worst is still to come,” said Jerome Saloman, head of national public health.
He said four drownings directly linked to the heatwave had been recorded in France since the start of the week. However, the full toll of the sweltering heat would be known only in the days or weeks ahead.
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said four administrative regions in the south were on red alert, the highest crisis level, with 76 others on orange alert. Emergency services were overwhelmed with patients.
“This episode of heatwave is unprecedented in France. It is exceptional in its intensity,” she said.
The red alert would mean school outings and outdoor sport and other festive activities are suspended or postponed. Ms Buzyn warned joggers and other sport lovers to curb their activities.
In Germany, 51 observing stations broke June temperature records this week, according to the World Meteorology Organisation. But there was some relief for northern Germany on Thursday, with Berlin dropping from 37 degrees on Wednesday down to just 21 degrees.
The Italian Health Ministry said seven cities, including Florence, Rome and Turin, already were at Italy’s highest heat warning level on Thursday. On Friday, 16 cities will be under alerts for high temperatures.
Italian authorities instructed people to avoid being outside during the hottest hours of the day and to stay away from areas with a lot of vehicle traffic to prevent ozone exposure.
Meteorologists say hot air drawn in from northern Africa is responsible for the sweltering temperatures.
Britain has escaped the worst of the heat, although temperatures there are well into the 30s. Organisers of this weekend’s Glastonbury festival – which draws about 150,000 people a year – warned ticket-holders to be prepared for temperatures of up to 35 degrees.
The @MetOffice think #Glastonbury2019 could be a scorcher. In case they're right, please remember to pack a reusable bottle – ready filled with water – some suncream and a hat. (And, just in case, some sturdy boots or wellies too.) https://t.co/9G4RGpwdd5
— Glastonbury Festival (@GlastoFest) June 24, 2019
Weather records have also been set in Poland and the Czech Republic, which both reached their highest temperatures for June on Wednesday. Austria expects to have its warmest June on record – 4.5 degrees above the long-term average.
In the Czech Republic, gorillas and polar bears at Prague’s zoo kept cool by eating their own version of sorbet. Zoos across the continent have struggled to keep animals cool, feeding frozen treats to some and providing water tubs and hoses to cool down elephants and primates.