UK breaches 40C for first time, heat records tumble in France

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A punishing heatwave fuelling ferocious wildfires in western Europe pushed temperatures in Britain over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on Tuesday and regional heat records tumbled elsewhere.

After the UK’s warmest night on record, the Met Office said a new high of 40.3C had been recorded at Coningsby in eastern England.

Experts blamed climate change for the soaring temperatures — and warned that worse is yet to come.

“In the future these kinds of heatwaves are going to be normal, and we will see even stronger extremes.”

Grassland fires erupted on the edge of London, with one forcing the evacuation of 14 people as farm buildings, houses and garages were consumed by the flames.

– Runways melting –

But with road surfaces and runways melting and fears of rails buckling, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps conceded much of Britain’s infrastructure “is just not built for this temperature”. 

But the all-time high for mainland France, set in 2019 near Montpellier, of 46C did not appear under threat this week.

Firefighters in France’s southwest were still struggling to contain two massive fires that have caused widespread destruction and forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters from all over the country are battling the two blazes that have so far burned more than 19,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forest near the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s biggest sand dune.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Patrick Davet, mayor of La Teste-de-Buch.

– ‘Climate emergency’ –

The Greek fire department said that it had dealt with 39 fire outbreaks across the country in just 24 hours.

Known as one of the largest wolf reserves in Europe, it saw nearly 30,000 hectares of land reduced to ashes during the June blaze.

“The climate emergency is lethal,” said prime minister Pedro Sanchez, after visiting a badly hit area.

Several people have died in recent days due to the blazes while separately, an office worker in his 50s died from heatstroke in Madrid.

A forest fire in the Vila Real region in the far north of Portugal involved more than 800 firefighters and saw three villages evacuated.

Wildfires in Portugal had already killed two other people and injured around 60.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands recorded its third-highest temperature since records began — 39.4C in the southern city of Maastricht, public broadcaster NOA said, quoting the national meteorological office.

In Amsterdam, council workers sprayed bridges over the famed canals with water to keep them cool, amid fears that steel in the structures could expand and prevent them opening to let boats pass.

“It’s just like a holiday in Majorca,” said Norwegian tourist Ane Herber, 25.

Two nuclear reactors located near Antwerp had to reduce their production power by more than half in order to limit the temperature of water discharged into nearby rivers. 

Henning Christ, who grows wheat and other crops in Brandenburg state, told AFP his farm was 20 percent below its average annual yield.

“We have become used to drought and dry periods to some extent, but this year has been very unusual.”

Originally published as UK breaches 40C for first time, heat records tumble in France


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