A woman looks through the glass of an enclosure at a polar bear as he cools off in the water at a zoo in Mulhouse, France.
Madrid: Europe sweltered yesterday in intense heat with temperatures hitting near-record highs of 46 degrees Celsius in Portugal, while elsewhere high temperatures melted the asphalt or saw police dogs fitted with shoes.
The heatwave reached its peak yesterday, said Paula Leitao of the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere.
In Monchique in the south, a forest fire raged on two fronts, aided by “a temperature of 46 degrees but a real feel of 50 degrees” and very little humidity in the air, Victor Vaz Pinto, head of rescue operations in the district, told local media.
So far, close to 740 firemen helped by 10 water-dropping planes and helicopters were working to put it out, according to Vaz Pinto and the civil protection agency.
In Lisbon, authorities have closed playgrounds and called on people to avoid picnics and outdoor activities.
Refuges for homeless people also opened earlier in the day to allow them to take shelter from the crushing heat.
In southern Spain, the heat continued to pound the tourist city of Cordoba reaching 44C.
The soaring mercury has already claimed the lives of three people this week.
A middle-aged man in Barcelona, whom media said appeared to be homeless, was found collapsed on a street on Friday and taken to hospital where he later died of heatstroke, Catalonia’s civil protection agency said in a statement.
Two other men – a roadworker in his 40s and a 78-year-old pensioner tending to his vegetable garden – also died from heatstroke this week.
In Vienna, police dogs due to patrol a beach volleyball tournament were fitted with special shoes. Police said that even if temperatures were not excruciatingly hot, reaching just 34C yesterday, the dogs would have to spend hours walking on surfaces exposed to the sun that could easily go over 50C, and would still need the shoes.
In the Netherlands, authorities closed certain sections of highways where the heat had melted the asphalt.
The central city of Zwolle, meanwhile, started cutting the branches of some 100 poplar trees. Dutch public television NOS explained that branches could break due to the heat and create danger for drivers or passers-by.
A total of four nuclear reactors in France have been closed due to the heatwave.
Yesterday was also the summer’s busiest day on the roads, as July holiday-makers returned home and those who vacation in August departed.
By late morning, some 705km of traffic jams had been reported, according to France’s traffic authorities, as the sun beat down on the asphalt.
A forest fire in northeastern Spain on the French border forced authorities to shut a highway linking the two countries.
Italy too faced the summer’s busiest day on the roads. Holiday-makers were expected to face adverse weather conditions wherever they went.
In the north, there was no let-up in the scorching heat while violent hailstorms were expected in the afternoon in the south.
Following its hottest July in 250 years, rainshowers gave Sweden some respite yesterday across most of the country.
The mercury fell to more typical summer temperatures of around 20-25C.