World

France sets heat record as much of Western Europe swelters

Thousands of schools were closed, outdoor events cancelled and volunteers were visiting the elderly at home as France and other nations battle a record-setting heat wave baking much of Europe, with Gallargues-le-Montueux in southern France reaching a reading of 45.9 C.

Reading of over 45 C recorded in Gallargues-le-Montueux, while Italy, Spain and Germany also bake

A woman cools off in a water fountain in Marseille, France on Friday as a heatwave hits much of the country. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

Thousands of schools were closed, outdoor events cancelled and volunteers were visiting the elderly at home as France and other nations battle a record-setting heat wave baking much of Europe.

Several people have died around the continent in incidents that authorities are linking to the exceptional weather. A major wildfire raged Friday in Spain, sparked when a pile of chicken dung spontaneously combusted in the heat.

Several countries have reported record temperatures this week, and France hit its all-time heat record Friday: 45.9 C in the small southern town of Gallargues-le-Montueux, according to French media.

The French national weather service activated its highest-level heat danger alert for the first time, putting four regions around Marseille and Montpellier in the south of the country under special watch Friday.

Those schools that stayed open worked to keep kids cool. Teachers at the Victor Hugo Primary School in Colombes near Paris abandoned suffocating classrooms and are keeping children outside all day, spraying them with water and organizing quiet activities in the shade.

"I make them go in the playground with books, in the shade. They must stay seated," said teacher Valerie Prevost. "We tell them to dampen their caps, to drink regularly."

An emergency worker takes the blood pressure of a woman suffering from the heat in Tours, France, on Thursday. The southern French town of Carpentras set a new national record for highest temperature on Friday. (Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images)

About 4,000 schools closed because they couldn't ensure safe conditions, and local authorities cancelled many end-of-school-year carnivals.

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 up to the risks.

"This heat wave is exceptional by its intensity and its earliness," he told reporters.

"Measures have been taken for the most vulnerable people," Philippe said. "But given the intensity of the heat wave, it's the entire population who must be careful today ... both for oneself and for loved ones and neighbours."

Heat-related deaths, wildfires in Spain

Italy put 16 cities under alerts for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists visiting famed sites around Rome under a scorching sun.

Four people have drowned so far in France this week, and a 12-year-old girl drowned in a river near Manchester, England. France's health minister and British police warned people to swim only in authorized areas.

France has also seen an uptick in so-called street-pooling, or illegally opening fire hydrants. A six-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.

A tourist uses an umbrella to protect herself from sunshine in Toledo, Spain, on Friday. The heat wave affecting the Spanish peninsula has led to at least two fatalities. (Angeles Visdomine/EPA-EFE)

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.

Firefighters and aircraft battled for a third straight day to contain a major wildfire that started in a pile of chicken dung in northeastern Spain.

Authorities said more than 700 firefighters, eight helicopters and six water-dropping aircraft aimed to slow the fire's progress until nightfall, when cooler temperatures might give them an advantage.

A stiff breeze was driving the flames in the direction of Lleida, 30 kilometres away, though officials said the city wasn't considered to be under threat.

Temperatures in the area of the fire reached 41 C as parts of Europe recorded their hottest June temperatures in recent memory due to hot air moving north from Africa.

Temperatures were forecast to drop from Saturday.

Authorities said the fire is the Catalonia region's worst fire in two decades and 20,000 hectares of hilly terrain are at risk. By Friday, an estimated 6,000 hectares had burned.

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