France’s national weather service issued its highest-level danger alert as it warned that parts of the country could expect temperatures to reach an “exceptional peak” on Friday amid a record-setting heatwave in Europe.
Meteo France raised the hazardous weather warning to “red” on Thursday – the highest level – for the Marseille and Montpellier areas in southeastern France, forecasting hazardous temperatures of 42C-45C (107F-113F).
It was the first red alert Meteo France has activated since a four-level weather “vigilance” system was introduced following an estimated 15,000 heat-related deaths in France during a 2003 summer heatwave.
“A heatwave of this amplitude so early in the year, in June, is exceptional,” Meteo France meteorologist France Christelle Robert said.
“We should expect more intense and frequent heatwaves with climate change, because it will accentuate the extremes.”
The Italian health ministry said seven cities, including Florence, Rome and Turin, were already at Italy’s highest heat warning level on Thursday.
On Friday, 16 cities would be under alerts for high temperatures.
The Italian authorities have instructed people to avoid being outside during the hottest hours of the day and to stay away from areas with a lot of vehicle traffic to prevent ozone exposure.
In France, a red extreme weather warning advises extra precautions for children and older people and cautions that even those in good health are at risk of heat stroke.
Most of the rest of France remained on the next highest “orange” alert.
In Paris and other big cities, including Marseille, authorities banned older cars as high heat exacerbates air pollution.
Amid the blistering weather in Europe, hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain a wildfire in northeastern Spain that forced the evacuation of 53 residents.
Firefighters said temperatures over 30C (86 F), low humidity and high winds had fanned the flames.
In the Czech Republic, where a new June temperature record was set this week, gorillas and polar bears at Prague’s zoo kept cool by eating their own version of sorbet.
Zookeepers presented the animals with big blocks of frozen water with ingredients to suit their tastes.