The UK and France announced a heat wave on Monday, facing record temperatures as southwestern Europe withered under the scorching sun and rampant bushfires devoured more forests.
Forecasters in the UK have warned of chaos in a country unprepared for the onslaught of a heatwave that authorities say is putting lives at risk.
The meteorologists said the mercury should rise to 38 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in London on Monday – just below Britain’s all-time high of 38.7 degrees Celsius – and could top 40 degrees Celsius for the first time by Tuesday.
Scientists blame this on climate change and predict more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
Across the English Channel, firefighters failed to contain two major fires in southwest France that led to apocalyptic scenes of destruction.
For six days, armies of firefighters and a fleet of water-jet aircraft fought the flames, for which most of the entire French fire force was mobilized.
Forecasters have put 15 French departments on high alert for extreme temperatures, including in the region of western Brittany, where the Atlantic coastal city of Brest is expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius on Monday, nearly double the usual July average.
By noon, Brest had already beaten its record of 35.2 degrees Celsius set in 1949.
The northward European heat wave is the second to sweep parts of the southwest of the continent in just a few weeks.
Fires in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land and forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee.
In the French forest of Landes in southwest Aquitaine, temperatures will “be above 42 degrees Celsius” on Monday, according to weather forecaster Olivier Proust.
In the Gironde region, further north, firefighters on Monday continued fighting wildfires that have consumed nearly 14,000 acres (35,000 acres) since Tuesday.
An area nine kilometers (5.5 miles) long and eight kilometers wide was still burning near the Dune de Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe, turning picturesque scenery, popular campgrounds and pristine beaches into a hot mess.
Another 8,000 people were evacuated near the dune on Monday as shifting winds blew thick smoke into residential areas, officials said.
“Smoke is toxic,” firefighters spokesman Arnaud Menduss told AFP. “Protecting the public is a matter of public health.”
The evacuations added to the 16,000 tourists or residents already forced to leave the camp in France, many of whom ended up in makeshift shelters.
“There will be a heat apocalypse in some southwestern areas,” meteorologist François Gourhan told AFP.
In Spain, a fire in the northwestern province of Zamora has claimed the life of a 69-year-old shepherd, regional authorities said, the second death since a fire a day earlier in the same area.
Authorities have reported 20 wildfires raging from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where the fires have destroyed about 4,500 hectares of land.
In Portugal, almost the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures reaching 47°C – a record month for July – last Thursday.
‘Get along with her’
The fires have claimed the lives of two people, injured about 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.
In the UK, a government already in turmoil after a series of scandals and the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has drawn fresh criticism for not taking the situation seriously enough.
“This is a serious heat wave that could end up causing deaths because it is so ferocious,” Tracy Nicholls, executive director of the College of Paramedics, told Sky News.
The Sun tabloid headlined its coverage of the heatwave “British Bake Off”, noting that the heatwave made the UK hotter than Ibiza, where Monday’s temperature was indeed a comparatively paltry 30°C.
“It’s a little scary,” Karina Lawford, 56, told AFP as she took a stroll by the sea in Tankerton on the north coast of Kent, saying the heat reminded her of Australia, where she lives.
Britain’s chief meteorologist Paul Davies said the heatwave was “totally in line with climate change”, telling Sky News the heatwave’s “brutality” is “astounding” but could become commonplace “by the end of the century”.
Network Rail, which is in charge of rail infrastructure, said the main East Coast route from London’s King’s Cross to York and Leeds will be closed Tuesday from 11:00 to 19:00 GMT.
But some in Britain, such as Dave Williams, a 64-year-old plumber, were dismissive of the fact that the heatwave had taken over the entire area.
“Just keep going,” he told AFPTV. “The way they talk about it is like we never had a summer.”
Among the people heading to the beaches in search of a breather was Abu Bakr, a bank worker who also put the British heat into perspective.
“I’m from Sudan,” he said, relaxing on Brighton’s beach. “Forty, forty-five degrees is just the norm. It’s as good as it gets.”