Europeans braced Thursday 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 will on Thursday and Friday likely send thermometers above 40 C 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.
‘We see citizens who are quite irresponsible and continue to go jogging between midday and 2:00pm,’ she told France 2 TV.
She complained also of seeing ‘parents who leave their children in the car to do some quick shopping or leave them without a hat in the open air.’
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 on Friday, where areas in the south could see peaks of 42 to 44 C.
Meteo France said France’s all-time record could be broken - an August 12, 2003 reading of 44.1 C in Saint-Christol-les-Ales and Conqueyrac in the southern Gard region.
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.
As Germans attempted to cool off amid scorching temperatures, at least four people died in bathing accidents in different parts of the country on Wednesday.
And some areas of Germany are experiencing water shortages and around the North Rhein Westfalia towns of Loehne, Bad Oeynhausen, residents were told to only use drinking water for vital purposes or face a 1,000 euros ($1,137) fine.
French hotel group Accor said it would open up its air-conditioned lobbies to the elderly until Saturday to ensure their wellbeing.
There has been no coordinated shutdown of schools but some have closed in parts of France, while others advised parents to keep children at home.
Schools in Paris will stay open until the end of the week when the summer holidays will begin, city authorities said.
In the wider Paris region, authorities have shut some primary schools including in Essonne where around 59 educational institutions have closed.
Residents of the French city of Grenoble were unable to use two municipal swimming pools despite the record temperatures, due to a row sparked by use of the full-body Islamic burkini swimsuit.
Lifeguards had asked for the shutdown after Muslim women clad in burkinis had gone to swim in defiance of a municipal ban.
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