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Britain declares national emergency as record-breaking heat wave sweeps over Europe

“It is very likely that there will be a risk to life, with substantial disruption to travel, energy supplies and possibly widespread damage to property,” the U.K.’s weather service said.
London heatwave
Pedestrians cool off by soaking their feet in the Trafalgar Square fountain in London during a heat wave on Wednesday.Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

A record-breaking heat wave could cause “danger to life” in the U.K., forecasters warned as scorching temperatures fueled wildfires and prompted weather warnings in several European countries.

On Saturday Britain's government held a meeting of its emergency committee, known as Cobra, after the country's national weather service issued its first-ever “red warning” for extreme heat for Monday and Tuesday.

This means “it very likely that there will be a risk to life, with substantial disruption to travel, energy supplies and possibly widespread damage to property and infrastructure,” the Meteorological Office, known as the Met Office, said on its website.

It came after the U.K. Health Security Agency increased its heat- health warning from level three to level four — which constitutes a national emergency.

Temperatures in southern England were forecasted to reach 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the Met Office said Friday. They could also surpass U.K.’s highest-ever temperature of 101.7 degrees, recorded in July 2019.

As a result, officials in a country where air-conditioning in homes is rare have urged people not to take public transportation, and some schools have said they would hold classes remotely.

Across Britain, Met Office data showed that cities like London and Manchester would hit temperatures forecasted in long-range climate projections for the year 2040. Highs of almost 104 degrees are predicted.

Scorching temperatures are also forecast for parts of France and Spain, where a high of 107.6 degrees is predicted on Monday.

A man cools his face with water from a fountain in Paris
A man uses a drinking fountain to cool his face in Paris on Wednesday.Bertrand Guay / AFP - Getty Images

In the Bordeaux region of southwestern France, 12,200 people have been forced to evacuate their homes as wildfires sweep through, the local authority for the Gironde Department said in a statement Saturday.

Almost 1,200 firefighters and four specialist planes were battling to contain two blazes that have burned 25,000 acres of land, including woodlands south of the Atlantic resort town of Arcachon, which have burned since Tuesday, the statement added.

Although one of the fires had been partially contained, hotter temperatures and winds over the weekend could complicate the firefighting efforts, according to the department's statement.

“We are living through an exceptionally harsh (summer) season,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday during a visit to the government crisis management center at the Interior Ministry in Paris.

The number of French forests burned in fires this year is already triple those destroyed in 2020, he said.

Further south in Portugal, a national high of 117 degrees was recorded in the northern town of Pinhao on Wednesday, as the mass of hot and dry air from Africa blew over the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula.

On Saturday, More than 3,000 firefighters continued to battle multiple blazes as citizens desperately sought to save their homes.

A water-bomber pilot died Friday after his aircraft crashed while he fought a raging wildfire in the northern Portuguese municipality of Torre de Moncorvo, near the Spanish border.

Portugal's Civil Protection Agency said just under 25,000 acres of land had been scorched this week alone.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Spain, temperatures topped 104 degrees for several days while firefighters struggled to control a fire erupted by a lightning strike on Monday in the west-central Las Hurdes area that consumed about 13,600 acres of land. 

Around 400 people from eight villages were evacuated on Thursday as flames approached their homes and spread into the nearby Monfrague National Park. In the Spanish town of Seville, some unions called for workers to be sent home. 

Firefighters in Croatia and Hungary also battled blazes throughout the week, brought by high temperatures and lightning.

Firefighters discovered a corpse Thursday morning among the ruins of a burned farmhouse, Hungary's disaster management authority said Thursday in a statement.

Several villages were also evacuated in Greece and Morocco as fires swept across the Mediterranean.

As a result, the European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces another extreme weather shift that scientists say has been triggered by climate change.