PARIS • Swathes of Western Europe wilted under intense heat on Friday, with socially distanced crowds seeking relief in fountains and pools as the authorities warned of health and wildfire risks.
From Britain to Italy, temperatures of around 40 deg C made face masks almost unbearable for many, as more cities begin requiring people to wear them outdoors to prevent surges in Covid-19 cases.
"Even in this stifling heat, it's better to put up with 38 degrees than catch the coronavirus," said municipal worker Daniela Iannelli in Rome.
Fourteen Italian cities were placed on high alert, while France issued warnings for about one-third of the country's 101 departments.
Paris officials imposed driving restrictions to limit ozone pollution as tens of thousands of vacationers prepared to flee to cooler climes, said the traffic surveillance agency.
On Friday, a dramatic wildfire fanned by high winds on France's south-western Atlantic coast was brought under control after it destroyed nearly a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate.
The blaze broke out late Thursday in the Chiberta forest park in Anglet, whose beaches just north of Biarritz draw surfers from around the world.
It was the latest of several fires in southern and central France in the past week, kicking off the annual fire season which officials warn could be worsened by drought and dry heat.
"The heatwave requires the state to be vigilant, and everyone to be cautious," French Prime Minister Jean Castex said while visiting firefighters in Bourg-en-Bresse, southeastern France.
Officials also urged families and neighbours to check on the elderly, and retirement homes were on high alert since air-conditioners were discouraged over fears that they could foster coronavirus contagion.
An increase in Covid-19 cases prompted French officials to tighten face mask requirements in several cities, with many making them mandatory outdoors as well as in enclosed public spaces.
In the Netherlands, beachgoers were told to avoid the coastal resort of Zandvoort near Amsterdam, with the public safety authorities saying it was too crowded to maintain social distancing.
"There are much quieter beaches on our coast and on other waters - I advise you to look for them," the regional safety authority chairman Marianne Schuurmans was quoted as saying by Dutch media.
Long queues of cyclists formed to take the ferry to Schiermonnikoog, one of the West Frisian islands near the German border, as temperatures in the southern Netherlands jumped to 35 deg C.
Britain's national weather service said Friday was "the hottest day of the year by some way", with the mercury climbing to 37.8 deg C at London's Heathrow Airport. Many in the capital packed onto trains heading for Brighton on the southern coast.
The Spanish weather service said most of the country was scorching under an air mass moving north from Africa. Madrid reported 38 deg C on Friday while several cities in the interior saw 40 deg or more.
In Germany, which also recorded its hottest day this year with temperatures exceeding 35 deg C in parts of the south, public pools imposed limits on swimmer numbers in a bid to reduce infection risk.
Western Europe was expected to see relief from the high temperatures from yesterday, forecasts showed.