Hundreds of firefighters have struggled to contain a major wildfire in northeastern Spain on a day that has seen temperatures continue to soar across most of Europe.
France followed Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in breaking its temperature record for June after an “enormous reservoir” of hot air from the Sahara engulfed the continent, which has seen a blaze spanning 5,500 hectares break out on hilly terrain near the Ebro River about 75 miles (121km) west of Barcelona.
The Spanish military has sent a unit of 120 specialists to help local firefighters battle the flames, which have sent thick plumes of smoke high into the air above the Catalonia region.
Miquel Buch, the local interior minister, said 20,000 hectares were under threat in what was the worst fire in the area in two decades, with a deposit of improperly stored chicken manure at a farm in Torre de l’Espanyol believed to have combusted due to the high temperatures and started the fire.
Spanish television showed horses and sheep left helpless as the fire engulfed the farm they were being kept on, and five roads have been closed to traffic.
The apocalyptic scenes came amid temperatures of close to 44C (111.2F), and the mercury also hit 41.8C (107.2F) in a southern region of France called Montclus.
It surpassed the previous national June record of 41.FC (106F), set on 21 June 2003.
French authorities have imposed restrictions on vehicles in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg in a bid to curb air pollution during the heatwave, and some schools have closed and postponed summer exams.
Northern parts of the country have been placed on drought alert, with water supplies to businesses, farmers and residents restricted, and there is also a ban on the transportation of animals over fears for their safety.
In the south, four regions have been placed on red alert – the highest crisis level – with 76 on orange.
VigiMeteoFrance tweeted that 42.3C (108.1F) had been recorded in Grospierres – the highest June temperature on record for France. The highest the country has ever recorded is 44.1C (111.4F), which could be beaten tomorrow.
Health minister Agnes Buzyn said the heatwave was “unprecedented” and “exceptional in its intensity”.
Calls to the emergency services are also up, with Jerome Saloman, head of national public health, reporting that four drownings had been recorded since the start of the week – directly linked to the heatwave as people try to cool off.
He added: “Calls to the emergency services are on the rise nationwide. We are seeing the beginning of a clear impact of the heatwave.
“For us the worst is still to come.”
Grid operator RTE said electricity demand on Thursday was close to a summer record seen two years ago, as people turned on fans and coolers to full blast for relief from the scorching heat.
Temperatures have also soared close to 40C (104F) in other European countries, although there has been some relief for northern Germany, where the heat slipped to 21C (69.8F) in Berlin on Thursday – down from 37C (98.6F).
According to the Met Office, there have been temperatures of 38C (100.4F) in Milan, Italy, 35C (95F) in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, 34C (93.2F) in the Austrian capital of Vienna, and 33C (91.4F) in Bern, Switzerland.
That makes them all hotter than Athens in Greece, which so often sets the standards for European heatwaves, as well as traditionally warm cities elsewhere in the world like Tokyo in Japan and Los Angeles in the US.
Sky’s Europe correspondent Mark Stone has been in Paris and said the extreme conditions had some worried.
He said: “We’re used to temperature records being broken year on year almost, but it usually happens in August.
“The problem and the concern that analysts have about this temperature is that we’ve got a heatwave in June, which is very, very early, and because it’s so early the humidity is much higher.”
On Wednesday, a number of countries across the continent broke their June records.
German weather agency Deutscher Wetterdienst reported a preliminary reading of 38.6C (101.5F) in Coschen, near the border with Poland – a tenth of a degree celsius higher than the previous national record for June in 1947 in southwestern Germany.
Radzyn in Poland also recorded a new national high of 38.2C (100.76F), while Doksany in the Czech Republic experienced 38.9C (102.02F).
The heatwave is expected to continue into Friday and the weekend, when forecasters have said it will make its presence felt in earnest in the UK.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have already seen their highest temperatures of the year so far, but central and eastern England looks set to be even hotter on Saturday, with 34C (93.2F) on the cards for some.
For those at Glastonbury, Sky’s weather producer Joanna Robinson has said the temperature record for the annual music festival could well be broken too.
It currently stands at 31.2C (88.2F), which was seen in 2017.