A fierce heatwave in western Europe has left much of the continent wilting under a scorching sun, feeding ferocious wildfires and threatening to smash more temperature records on Tuesday.
In Britain, forecasters said the current national record of 38.7 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahren-heit) could be broken and 40C breached for the first time, with experts blaming climate change and pre-dicting more frequent extreme weather to come.
On Monday the 38.1C recorded in Suffolk, in eastern England, made it the hottest day of the year and the third-hottest day on record.
Across the Channel in France, a host of towns and cities recorded their highest-ever temperatures on Monday, the national weather office said.
The mercury hit 39.3C in Brest on the Atlantic coast of Brittany, in the far northwest of the country, smashing a previous record of 35.1C from 2002.
Saint-Brieuc, on the Channel coast, hit 39.5C beating a previous record of 38.1C, and the western city of Nantes recorded 42C, beating a decades-old high of 40.3C, set in 1949.
Firefighters in France’s southwest were still struggling in the crushing heat to contain two mas-sive fires that have caused widespread destruction.
For nearly a week now, armies of firefighters and a fleet of waterbombing aircraft have battled blazes that have mobilised much of France’s firefighting capacity.
Ireland saw temperatures of 33C in Dublin — the highest since 1887 — while in the Netherlands, tem-peratures reached 35.4C in the southern city of Westdorpe.
Although that was not a record, higher temperatures are expected there on Tuesday. Neighbouring Belgium also expected tempera-tures of 40C and over.
The European heatwave is the second to engulf parts of the southwest of the conti-nent in recent weeks.
European Commission researchers, meanwhile, said nearly half (46 percent) of EU territory was exposed to warning-level drought.
Eleven percent was at an alert level, and crops were already suffering from lack of water. Blazes in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land.
An area nine kilometres (5.5 miles) long and eight kilometres wide was still ablaze near France’s Dune de Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune, turning picturesque landscapes, popular campsites and pris-tine beaches into a scorching mess.
The blaze was literally “blowing things up”, such was its ferocity, said Marc Vermeulen, head of the local fire service.
“Pine trunks of 40 years are bursting.” A total of 8,000 people were being evacuated from near the dune Monday as a precaution, as changing winds blew thick smoke into residential areas, officials said.
Hurriedly packing her car, Patricia Monteil said she would go to her daughter’s home in another part of the district.
“But if that goes up in flames too, I don’t know what to do.” Around 32,000 tourists or residents have been forced to decamp in France, many to emergency shelters.