PARIS • A welcome dip in temperatures refreshed parts of Europe yesterday, bringing relief to areas which have sweltered through a widespread, deadly heatwave for nearly a week.
Hot-weather warnings were lifted across northern and western France, days after the country posted all-time high temperatures as it sizzled along with Italy and Spain as well as some central European nations.
Six days of intense heat fuelled huge blazes and pollution peaks, and officially claimed four lives in France, two in Italy and another two in Spain. The victims included a 17-year-old harvest worker, a 33-year-old roofer and a 72-year-old homeless man.
However, even as the mercury was set to drop for France and Spain yesterday, it was expected to rise in Germany, hitting as high as 39 deg C in some places before cooling down from today.
Last Saturday night in Spain, firefighters were battling high flames in strong winds and blistering heat soon after they managed to contain another inferno in nearly 72 hours.
A fire that started last Friday in the central Spanish town of Almorox destroyed at least 1,600ha, spilling over into the Madrid region and forcing the evacuation of a village, emergency services said.
In France, fires have razed about 600ha and dozens of houses in the Gard department in the country's south. This is the same region where a new French record of 45.9 deg C was set last Friday, prompting the Meteo France weather service to issue its highest alert level of red for the first time.
Winegrowers in the south of France said their crops have been razed. "Some vines seem to have been hit with a blowtorch," said Mr Jerome Despey, while Ms Catherine Bernard likened it to the effects of a hairdryer.
Mr Despey added: "I've been a winegrower for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burned by a sudden onset of heat like yesterday."
France is the seventh European country to ever register a temperature soaring more than 45 deg C, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said.
France remains haunted by the memory of a devastating heatwave in August 2003, which killed nearly 15,000 people.
"I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens - there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
Meteorologists point to a blast of hot air from northern Africa for the scorching early European summer.
Scientists warn that global warming, linked to human fossil-fuel use, could make such heatwaves more frequent.
In Germany, the national weather service said temperatures were more than 4 degrees higher in June than an international reference period of 1981 to 2010.
The stifling heat has caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting the various local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.
In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, the authorities have banned the most-polluting cars from the roads in recent days. In Madrid last Saturday, thousands protested in the scorching heatwave against a decision by the Spanish capital's new mayor to suspend curbs on polluting cars that were launched last November.