CARPENTRAS, France: The temperature in France surpassed 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on record on Friday as Europe sweltered in an early summer heatwave that has caused several deaths.
With France, Spain, Italy and parts of central Europe particularly badly hit by the high temperatures, officials pleaded with people to take common sense precautions.
France's new record temperature of 45.1 degrees Celsius was registered in Villevieille, a village in the southern department of Gard near Montpellier, the same area where a previous high of 44.1 degrees Celsius was set in August 2003, Meteo-France told AFP. Records began at the turn of the 20th century.
The state forecaster said it was likely the record could be beaten again on Friday as it was still relatively early in the day.
The World Meteorological Organisation said 2019 was on track to be among the world’s hottest years, and that 2015-2019 would then be the hottest five-year period on record.
Earlier the mercury rose above 44 degrees C in the southeastern town of Carpentras. The town was deserted, with cafe owners contemplating empty terraces, which would normally be packed.
"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.
At least two deaths linked to the heatwave were reported in Spain.
After feeling dizzy while helping harvest wheat in the southern Andalusia region, a Spanish teenager collapsed with convulsions when he took a dip in a swimming pool to cool off.
He was rushed to hospital in the town of Cordoba where he later died, the regional government said.
Elsewhere in Spain, a 93-year-old man collapsed and died on the street in the northern city of Valladolid, police said, giving heatstroke as the cause of death.
Heat-related deaths have also been reported in Italy, France and Germany, mainly among the elderly.
France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003 which exposed the shortcomings of emergency services at the height of the summer holidays.
That year, nearly 15,000 people are estimated to have died because of the heat, many of them elderly people at home.
"I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens - there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave," said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
In Montpellier, 81-year-old Suzette Allegre was up early to do her shopping.
By 8:00 am, "the sun is already burning hot and you can smell the pollution," she told AFP, saying she was rushing home to barricade herself indoors.
Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such scorchers more frequent.
Fire hydrants uncapped
French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn warned those tempted to plunge into cold water, both young and old, to do so only in designated public bathing areas, adding that four people had drowned since the beginning of the week.
On Thursday, Buzyn complained that despite a barrage of public health warnings on radio, TV and on public transport, some parents were still leaving their children in hot cars and joggers were out exercising in the midday heat.
Also Thursday, a six-year-old Syrian child was seriously injured in the Saint-Denis neighbourhood north of Paris after being catapulted into the air by water gushing from an open fire hydrant and then crashing to the ground.
In the Italian city of Milan, a 72-year-old homeless man was found dead at the main train station on Thursday after falling ill due to the heatwave.
A day earlier, at least four people died in Germany in bathing accidents.
In Spain, firefighters were continuing to battle a large forest fire in the northeastern Catalonia region.
Catalonia's forest service said the fire likely began when an "improperly managed" pile of manure at a chicken farm spontaneously combusted in the extreme heat.
Hundreds of firefighters backed by troops and aerial water bombers were trying to bring it under control.
They were hampered by roasting 44-degree temperatures and very low humidity according to David Borrell, head of the Catalan fire department.
Spain's north-east was on red heatwave alert denoting "extreme risk".
The stifling temperatures have caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.
In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, authorities have banned the most polluting cars from the roads in recent days.