Paris/Madrid: Hundreds of firefighters battled Saturday to contain wildfires in southern France as a stifling heatwave brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of Europe, killing at least three people in Italy.
In the Gard region, where France’s highest temperature on record was registered Friday at 45.9 degrees Celsius, scores of fires burned some 600 hectares of land and destroyed several houses and vehicles, emergency services said.
More than 700 firefighters and 10 aircrafts were mobilised to tackle the fires in the Gard, some of which caused sections of motorways 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 degrees.
Further north, Paris was due to experience its hottest day of the heatwave so far with a predicted high of 37 degrees.
Authorities in the capital maintained a ban on driving older cars to curb heatwave-related pollution.
“We have never seen this!” one exclaimed.
The new record makes France just the seventh European country to have recorded a plus 45 degrees Celsius temperature, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said.
The World Meteorological Organization said this week that 2019 was on track to be among the world’s hottest years, and 2015-2019 would then be the hottest five-year period on record.
It said the European heatwave was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
Britain could see its hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures expected to reach up to 35 degrees Saturday, according to the Met Office.
For a fourth consecutive day, unusually high temperatures above 43 degrees were forecast Saturday across Spain.
Forty of the Spain’s 50 regions have been placed under weather alert, with seven of them considered to be at extreme risk, the national meteorological agency said.