PARIS/MADRID – Hundreds of firefighters on Saturday fought to contain wildfires in southern France as a stifling heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of Europe.
Deaths were reported in Spain, France and Italy.
In the Gard region, where France’s highest temperature on record — 45.9 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) — was registered Friday, scores of fires burned some 600 hectares (about 1,500 acres) of land and destroyed several houses and vehicles, emergency services said.
More than 700 firefighters and 10 aircraft were mobilized to tackle the fires in the Gard, some of which caused sections of expressways to be temporarily closed. Several firefighters were hurt but no serious injuries were reported.
French media said a man had been arrested for deliberately starting fires in one Gard village.
The extreme heat was expected to ease Saturday in southern France but highs were still forecast at close to 40 C.
Further north, Paris was due to experience its hottest day of the heat wave so far with a predicted high of 37 C.
Authorities in the capital maintained a ban on driving older cars to curb heat wave-related pollution.
The World Meteorological Organization said this week that 2019 is on track to be among the world’s hottest years, and 2015-2019 will then be the hottest five-year period on record.
It said the European heat wave is “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
Britain on Saturday could see its hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures expected to reach up to 35 C, according to the Met Office.
For a fourth consecutive day, unusually high temperatures above 43 degrees were forecast Saturday across Spain.
Forty of Spain’s 50 regions have been placed under weather alert, with seven of them considered to be at extreme risk, the meteorological agency said.
In the northeastern city of Girona, the mercury reached a record high of 43.9 degrees Celsius on Friday, the Catalan city’s highest-ever recorded temperature.
Firefighters managed to contain 90 percent of the wildfires that raged across 60 sq. kilometers (23 sq. miles) of land in northeastern Tarragona province, the Catalan government said Saturday.
Two other wildfires in central Toledo region were still burning, officials said.
The heat killed at least three people as temperatures soared in central and northern Italy, while hospitals in the financial capital, Milan, saw a 35 percent rise in emergency visits due to heat-related conditions, local media reported.
Demand for power in the city surged as people cranked up air conditioning, causing sporadic blackouts in stores and restaurants.
Several countries have reported record temperatures over the past several days, and France hit its all-time heat record Friday: 45.9 C (114.6 F) in the small southern town of Gallargues-le-Montueux, according to French media.
France’s weather service activated its highest-level heat danger alert for the first time, putting four regions around Marseille and Montpellier surrounding the town under special watch Friday.
About 4,000 schools were closed because they couldn’t ensure safe conditions.
City halls were also sending volunteers to visit elderly people at home to ensure they had fans and water.
In Issy-les-Moulineaux, a southwest Paris suburb, Jean-Jacques Emerjian, 87, and his wife, Marie-France, 80, were relieved to see the Red Cross volunteers.
Marie-France said, “With my handicapped husband I am worried because I don’t have someone who can come right away (to help). He fell the other night and I couldn’t get him up and I was scared. He had a malaise, he fainted.”
Paris City Hall estimates that about 1,000 to 2,000 migrants currently live in makeshift camps, which are particularly exposed to the heat.
Some criticized the government for going overboard, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe defended the efforts after 15,000 people died in a heat wave in 2003 that woke France to the risks.
“This heat wave is exceptional by its intensity and its earliness,” he told reporters.
Italy put 16 cities on alert for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists visiting famed sites around Rome under a scorching sun.
Heat was blamed for the deaths of two people in Spain, private news agency Europa Press reported Friday.
An 80-year-old man collapsed and died in the street in Valladolid, in northwest Spain, the agency said, and a 17-year-old boy died in the southern city of Cordoba after diving into a swimming pool and losing consciousness.
In France this week four people drowned, and a 12-year-old girl also drowned in a river near Manchester, in northwest England.
France has also seen an uptick in so-called street-pooling, or illegally opening fire hydrants. A 6-year-old child is in life-threatening condition after being hit by water shooting from a cracked-open fire hydrant in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, broadcaster France-Info reported.
Around 600 firefighters and six water-dropping aircraft battled the worst fire in two decades in the Catalonia region of northeast Spain on Friday as the country was forecast to endure the peak of its heat wave, with temperatures expected to exceed 40 C (104 F).
The World Meteorological Organization said Friday that temperature records for this time of year have been broken in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and Austria.
Temperatures are forecast to ease in the coming days but in general it will remain hot.