PARIS – France, Spain and other Western European nations braced Saturday for a record-breaking sweltering June weekend and raised concerns about wildfires and the effects of climate change.
Temperatures already exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in parts of France on Friday.
Saturday’s weather will represent the peak of a June heat wave that is in line with warnings from scientists that such phenomena will now arrive earlier than usual thanks to climate change.
Temperatures are expected to drop slightly from Sunday with thunderstorms forecast in parts of France and other parts of Europe.
But French state meteorologist Meteo France said June temperature records had already been broken in 11 areas on Friday and could reach 42 degrees Celsius in some areas on Saturday.
In Spain, wildfires burned nearly 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) of land in the northwestern Sierra de la Culebra region on Friday, forcing some 200 people from their homes, regional authorities said.
And more than 3,000 people were evacuated from the Puy du Fou theme park in central Spain due to a fierce fire nearby.
Firefighters were battling fires in several other regions, including the forests of Catalonia, where weather conditions complicated the fight.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez praised firefighters “who risk their lives on the front lines of the fires” on Friday, which is also the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.
Temperatures topped 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Friday across most of the country.
More than half of French departments were at the highest or second-highest heat alert level as of Friday afternoon.
“Hospitals are full, but they are keeping up with demand,” Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon told reporters in Vienne, near Lyon in the southeast.
Schoolchildren were told to stay home in departments with a “red” alert level, and the Ministry of Health activated a special hotline for heat waves.
The Red Cross also organized efforts to distribute fresh water to the homeless community in Toulouse, where temperatures are expected to reach 38 degrees Celsius on Saturday.
“There are more deaths of people on the streets in the summer than in the winter,” said volunteer Hugues Juglair, 67.
Meanwhile, rock and metal fans at the Hellfest music festival in western France were sprayed with water from hoses and huge spray guns in front of the stage as they headbanged or jumped to the beat of an opening day lineup that included to Deftones and The Offspring.
“This is the earliest heat wave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, climatologist at Meteo France.
With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be broken in various regions,” he called the weather a “marker of climate change.”
Several cities in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region could declare a state of emergency as an unprecedented drought threatens crops.
The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday with temperatures topping 30 degrees Celsius in the early afternoon, forecasters said.
It was the third day in a row that temperature records had been broken in the UK, where it topped 28 degrees Celsius on Wednesday and 29.5 degrees Celsius on Thursday.
Experts warned that the high temperatures were caused by worrying trends in climate change.
“As a result of climate change, heat waves start earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
“Unfortunately, what we are witnessing today is a foretaste of the future” if greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, he added.
In France, special measures have been taken in care homes for the elderly, still haunted by memories of a deadly 2003 heat wave.
Buildings are being sprayed with water to cool them down and residents are being rotated through air-conditioned rooms.
In the Gironde department, which includes Bordeaux, authorities said all public events outdoors or in places without air conditioning would be banned from 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Friday, a move that will spread throughout the region.
And speed limits in several regions, including around Paris, have been lowered to limit the concentration of harmful smog or ozone in the heat.
Paris Police Chief Didier Lallement said only the least polluting vehicles will be allowed to drive in the capital on Saturday due to fine particle pollution.
Power grid operator RTE said the increased use of fans and air conditioners was also increasing energy consumption.
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