Raging wildfires have scorched thousands of hectares of forest in France and Spain, while Britain is set to face its hottest day on record amid a scorching heat wave.
The south-west Gironde region of France has seen the worst of the fires so far.
A total of 14,300 hectares (35,000 acres) of land were set on fire on Monday, with 24,000 people evacuated from the area, the prefecture of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Gironde said on Twitter.
Authorities have deployed 1,700 firefighters to tackle the blazes. A spokesman for the Gironde regional fire and rescue service said that 12 firefighters have been slightly injured since the start of the operation.
In Spain, wildfires engulfed the central region of Castile and Leon and the northern region of Galicia on Sunday, Reuters reported. Firefighters calmed the flames in Mijas, in the south-eastern province of Malaga, and said those evacuated could go home.
Sweltering temperatures in Portugal have exacerbated a drought that began before the heatwave, according to data from the national meteorological institute. About 96% of the continent was already suffering from severe or extreme drought at the end of June.
More than 1,100 people are thought to have already died in the ongoing heat wave in southern Europe.
On Saturday, Portugal’s health ministry said 659 people, mostly elderly, had died in the previous seven days. An elderly couple also died on Monday as they tried to drive away from wildfires in northern Portugal, after their vehicle overturned, public broadcaster RTP reported.
And Spain estimated more than 510 heatwave-related deaths on Monday, according to calculations by the Carlos III Health Institute.
The scorching heat wave in Western Europe is expected to peak early this week.
Monthly minimum temperature records could be broken across France on Monday, according to the national meteorological agency. Météo-France has identified nine localities where the monthly minimums should be exceeded, including Rostrenen in Brittany, in northwestern France, where the record has been set since 1968.
In addition to Gironde, Météo-France has issued a heat wave red alert to a total of 15 departments in the western and southwestern regions, as temperatures are expected to reach 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday. 51 other regions have been placed under orange alert, including Paris, with residents being asked to avoid going out between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
“Given the peak in intensity expected for today, the chances are low that the mercury will drop sufficiently before the end of the day” for these records not to be broken, added Météo-France.
Since May, France has only experienced eight days when average daily temperatures were lower than the aggregate summer average temperatures. In the remaining 39 days, the national daily averages were higher than the average temperatures for this time of year observed between 1991 and 2020, according to Météo-France data.
Spain’s meteorological agency also issued extreme heat warnings on Sunday, Reuters reported. Temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) were predicted for the northern regions of Aragon, Navarre and La Rioja. The agency said the heat wave would end on Monday, but warned temperatures would remain “abnormally high”.
Nearly half of Europe’s territory, including the UK, is “at risk” of drought, European Commission researchers said on Monday. The Joint Research Center stressed that the drought in much of Europe is “critical” because the “winter-spring rainfall deficit…was exacerbated by the first heat waves in May and June”.
The water supply could be “compromised” in the coming months, according to the report.
Elsewhere in Europe, Britain is also experiencing extreme weather conditions. The Met Office issued its first-ever red warning for ‘extreme heat’ on Friday over soaring temperatures.
On Monday, temperatures reached 38.1 degrees in Santon Downham in eastern England, the third hottest day on record, as well as the hottest day of the year so far, according to the Met Office.
And Tuesday “should be even hotter”, according to Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby.
“So tomorrow is when we really see the greatest chance of 40 degrees and temperatures above that,” Endersby told BBC Radio on Monday.
“Even maybe above that, 41 is not out of place. We even have a few 43s in the model, but hopefully it won’t be that high.
Endersby said while extreme temperatures are not expected beyond Tuesday the Met Office will be monitoring the possibility of drought in the coming months.
“We are expecting a sharp drop in temperature overnight through Wednesday – down 10 or 12 degrees from what has been the previous days,” she said, adding: “Our focus is turns, after those two days, to dryness and when we might see rain, and we don’t see any significant rain coming.
Oxford University professor Myles Allen has warned that more heat will be inevitable if humanity does not reduce its carbon emissions.
“It’s not a new normal because we’re just on a trend towards ever warmer temperatures,” Allen told CNN on Monday.
The solution, he said, is a radical change in the energy industry. Individual companies are unlikely to unilaterally change their business models due to fears of losing competitiveness against competitors, he added.
“It has to be a regulation on the industry as a whole,” Allen said.