Europe braces for blistering June weekend heat
Temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius as heatwave in line with scientists' predictions
Spain, France and other western European nations braced on Saturday for a sweltering June weekend that is set to break records, with forest fires and warnings over the effects of climate change.
The weather on Saturday will represent a peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists' predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.
Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the north-west Sierra de la Culebra region.
The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.
Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire "remains active".
Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.
Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday -- with highs of 43 degrees C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.
There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures topped 40 degrees C on Saturday. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.
Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42 degrees C in some areas on Saturday, French state weather forecaster Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.
Farmers in the country are having to adapt. Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from "daybreak until 11.30am" and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55 degrees C.
"This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France" since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.
With "many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions," he called the weather a "marker of climate change".
Dutch authorities said they expected Saturday to be the hottest day of the year so far.
The Netherlands' national meteorological agency has issued a warning for the southern city of Limburg where temperatures could rise to 35 degrees C.
"The elderly and people with vulnerable health can develop health problems due to the heat," the agency said.
The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.
Drought and climate change
Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.
Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UN convention charged with reversing land degradation, on Friday warned drought was "set to increase in severity and frequency".
"The consequences of droughts could affect up to three-quarters of humanity by 2050," he said during a speech in Madrid.
Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.
"As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier," said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
"What we're witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future" if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, she added.