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Europe pants in early summer heatwaves threatening drought and wildfires

MADRID: Spain was headed for record June temperatures in four decades on Friday (Jun 17), one area of France banned outdoor events, and drought stalked Italian farmers, as an early summer heatwave sent Western Europeans hunting for shade and fretting over climate change.

The heatwave since the beginning of the week intensified on Friday, bringing temperatures from London to Madrid near record highs, according to national weather services.

"Avoid over-exposing to the sun, hydrate and take care of the most vulnerable so they don't suffer from heat stroke," advised Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid during an event.

Temperatures were due to reach 40 to 42 degrees Celsius in Madrid and Zaragoza, in central and eastern Spain respectively, the national weather agency AEMET said.

Those would be levels not seen in June since 1981.

Northern Italian regions risk losing up to half their agricultural output due to a drought, a farm lobby said, as lakes and rivers start to run dangerously low, jeopardising irrigation.

The federation of Italian utility companies, Utilitalia, warned this week that the country's longest river, the Po, was experiencing its worst drought for 70 years, leaving many sections of the vast, northern waterway completely dried up.

"EVERYONE FACES A HEALTH RISK"

In France, temperatures also climbed Friday with more than half of French departments at the highest or second-highest heat alert level by the afternoon.

Much of the country's southwest will see thermometers top 40 degrees Celsius, prompting warnings for the vulnerable.

"Hospitals are at capacity, but are keeping up with demand," Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon told reporters in Vienne, near Lyon in the southeast.

Schoolchildren were told to stay at home in departments at alert level "red" and the health ministry activated a special heatwave hotline.

Meanwhile rock and metal fans at the giant Hellfest in western France were sprayed with water from hoses and enormous vaporisers in front of the stage as they headbanged or bounced to an opening-day line-up including Deftones and The Offspring.

"This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France" since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at weather authority Meteo France.

With "many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions," he called the unseasonable weather a "marker of climate change".

Meteo France said temperatures were expected to reach their peak on Saturday before slowly declining.

The Gironde department around Bordeaux prohibited outdoor public events, including concerts, and those at indoor venues without air conditioning, a local official told public radio.

"Everyone now faces a health risk," local prefect Fabienne Buccio told France Bleu radio.

A spokesperson for the United Kingdom's weather service said that Friday was likely to top Wednesday's hottest day of the year so far of 28.2 degrees Celsius, with 34 expected in some parts of the southeast. Parks and pools were packed.

Mediterranean nations are increasingly worried about how climate change may affect their economies and lives.

"The Iberian peninsula is an increasingly dry area and our rivers' flow is slower and slower," Spanish leader Sanchez added.

Firefighters were battling wildfires in several parts of Spain, with Catalonia in eastern Spain and Zamora near the western border with Portugal the worst hit.

In Zamora, between 8,500 and 9,500 hectares turned to ashes.

The cloud of hot air was sparing Portugal on Friday, where temperatures were not as high on Friday as in other European nations, with Lisbon likely to reach 27 degrees Celsius.

However, last month was the hottest May in 92 years, said Portugal's weather agency IPMA, warning that most of the territory is suffering from a severe drought.

Portugal's reservoirs have low water levels, with the Bravura dam, in southern Portugal, being one of the most affected as it is only 15 per cent full.

Source: Agencies/gs/nh

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