Europeans on alert as record-breaking heatwave intensifies

BERLIN (AFP) – Europe’s record-breaking heatwave intensified yesterday, with authorities on alert as temperatures surpassed 40 degrees Celsius in some regions.

The stifling heat has prompted traffic restrictions in France and sparked forest fires in Spain.

Meteorologists blame a blast of hot air from northern Africa for the heat this week, which has already set new records in Europe for June.

Exceptional for arriving so early in summer, the heatwave sent thermometers above 40 degrees Celsius in France, Spain and Greece.

In Spain, hundreds of firefighters and soldiers, backed by water-dropping aircraft, battled on Wednesday to put out a wind-fuelled forest fire that erupted in Torre del Espanol in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Local villagers overlook a burned landscape after a wildfire in Torre del Espanyol, near Tarragona, Spain. – AP

The worst is expected today when 33 of the 50 Spanish provinces face extreme temperatures, which could reach 44 degrees in Girona.

In France, temperatures “unprecedented” for their timing and intensity – since 1947 when detailed surveys started – were expected to reach at least 39 degrees over two-thirds of the country, said weather service Meteo-France.

Health official Jerome Saloman said the impact of the extreme heat was starting to be felt in France, with an increase in weather-related calls to emergency medical services.

Some schools were closed yesterday and today, while several cities – including Paris and Lyon – restricted traffic to limit a build-up of air pollution.

French authorities were taking no chances after the August 2003 heatwave was blamed for 15,000 deaths in the country, with television and radio broadcasts issuing warnings.

In Greece, where around 100 people died in last year’s deadly fires at the Mati coastal resort, hospitals and officials were on red alert with temperatures of around 45 degrees nationwide.