Weather on Saturday will represent a peak of a heat wave in June that is in line with scientists’ warnings that such phenomena will now strike earlier than usual thanks to climate change.
Temperatures already rose above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of France on Friday.
But they will ease somewhat from Sunday with thunderstorms forecast in parts of France and elsewhere in Europe.
French state weather forecaster Meteo France said June temperature records had already been broken in 11 areas on Friday and could rise to 42 degrees in some areas on Saturday.
“This is the earliest heat wave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorela climatologist at Meteo France.
With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in different regions,” he called the weather a “climate change marker.”
In Spain, wildfires set fire to nearly 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) of land in the northwestern Sierra de la Culebra region on Friday, forcing some 200 people to evacuate their homes, regional authorities said.
And more than 3,000 people were evacuated from the Puy du Fou theme park in central Spain because of a severe fire nearby.
Firefighters fought fires in several other regions, including forests in Catalonia, where weather conditions made fighting difficult.
Temperatures were above 35 degrees in most parts of the country on Friday.
– Hospitals full – More than half of French departments were at their highest or second-highest heat warning level on Friday afternoon.
“Hospitals are full but keeping up with demand,” Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon told reporters in Vienne, near Lyon in the southeast.
Schoolchildren were told to stay home in “red” alarm-level wards and the health ministry activated a special heatwave hotline.
The Red Cross also organized efforts to distribute water to the homeless community in Toulouse, where temperatures are expected to rise to 38 degrees Celsius on Saturday.
“There are more deaths on the streets in the summer than in the winter,” said volunteer Hugues Juglair, 67.
Meanwhile, at the Hellfest music festival in western France, rock and metal fans were showered in front of the stage with water from hoses and huge vaporizers as they headbanged or bounced to an opening day lineup including Deftones and The Offspring.
Several cities in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens the harvest.
Ibrahim ThiawUN convention executive secretary charged with reversing land degradation warned Friday that the drought “would increase in severity and frequency”.
“The effects of drought could affect up to three quarters of humanity by 2050,” he said during a speech in Madrid.
The UK registered its hottest day of the year on Friday with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.
It was the third day in a row that temperature records were broken in the UK, where it was above 28 degrees on Wednesday and 29.5 degrees on Thursday.
– Climate change – Experts warned that the high temperatures were caused by troubling climate change trends.
“Heat waves are starting earlier due to climate change,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
“Unfortunately, what we see today is a preview of the future” as concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, she added.
In France, special measures have been taken in care homes for the elderly, which are still marked by the memory of a deadly heat wave in 2003 that cost at least 15,000 lives.
Buildings are sprayed with water to cool them, and residents are turned through air-conditioned rooms.
In the Gironde department, which also includes Bordeaux, authorities said all public events outdoors or in non-air-conditioned venues would be banned from 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Friday, a measure that will be extended across the region.
And speed limits in several regions, including around Paris, have been lowered to limit the concentration of harmful smog or ozone in the heat.
Paris police chief Didier Lallement said only the least polluting vehicles will be allowed to drive in the capital on Saturday due to particulate matter pollution.
Grid operator RTE said the increased use of fans and air conditioners also pushed up power consumption.