PARIS: France, Spain and other western European nations braced on Saturday for a sweltering June weekend that is set to break records and sparked concern about forest fires and the effects of climate change.
Temperatures already nudged over 40 degrees Celsius in parts of France on Friday.
The weather on Saturday will represent a peak of a June heatwave that is in line with warnings from scientists that such phenomena will now hit earlier than usual thanks to climate change.
Temperatures are due to relent slightly from Sunday with thunderstorms forecast in parts of France and elsewhere in Europe.
But French state weather forecaster Meteo France said June temperature records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday and could reach as high as 42 Celsius in some areas on Saturday.
In Spain, forest fires burned nearly 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) of land in the northwest Sierra de la Culebra region 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 woodlands in Catalonia where weather conditions complicated the fight.
Deadly heatwaves threaten economies too
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez praised firefighters “who risk their lives on the frontline of fires” on Friday, which is also World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.
Temperatures were above 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) Friday in most parts of the country.
More than half of French departments were at the highest or second-highest heat alert level by the afternoon on Friday.
“Hospitals are at capacity, but are keeping up with demand,” Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon told reporters in Vienne, near Lyon in the southeast.
Schoolchildren were told to stay at home in departments at alert level “red” and the health ministry activated a special heatwave hotline.
The Red Cross also organised efforts to distribute fresh water to the homeless community in Toulouse, where temperatures are expected to soar to 38 Celsius on Saturday.
“There are more deaths of people in the streets in the summer than in the winter,” said volunteer Hugues Juglair, 67.