World news: Searing heatwave scorches Europe

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MADRID: Britain was heading for its highest temperatures on record and firefighters battled blazes across southern Europe as a heatwave sent people seeking shade and worsening fears about climate change.

In Spain, a wildfire swept through a field and engulfed a backhoe near the northern town of Tabara, forcing the driver to run for his life as the flames scorched clothes from his back.

Across the country and in some other parts of southern Europe, there were signs that conditions were beginning to improve after days of searing peaks that claimed hundreds of lives and left the countryside dangerously dry, authorities said.

But the heat wave was moving north. Temperatures reached 38C in southern England yesterday and are expected to reach a record high of 40C today, according to the UK Met Office.

Train companies canceled services and some schools closed while ministers urged the public to stay at home and the government issued a ‘national emergency’ alert.

Flights have been suspended at Luton Airport after staff spotted a ‘runway fault’. Hot weather had melted the runway at the Royal Air Force’s Brize Norton base, Sky News reported.

Sales of electric fans, hoses, air conditioning units and sprinklers are soaring, retailers said.

“We were hoping not to come to this, but for the first time we are predicting over 40C in the UK,” said Met Office climate attribution scientist Dr Nikos Christidis.

“Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of extreme temperatures in the UK. The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be up to 10 times more likely in the current climate than in a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” he said.

Wildfires raged across Portugal, Spain and France and authorities warned there was further risk as tinder-dry conditions persisted.

Spain was facing the last day of a more than week-long heat wave, which had caused more than 510 heat-related deaths, according to estimates from the Carlos III Health Institute.

As fires burn thousands of hectares in Galicia, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura and Andalusia, Spain mourned the death of a firefighter on Sunday evening in the province of Zamora, in the north- west of the country.

In El Pont de Vilomara in Catalonia, evacuees gathered outside a civic center, including pensioner Onofre Munoz, 69, who said his house and van were completely destroyed.

“We bought the van when I retired and now it’s completely burnt out. We have nothing,” he said.

“Our house had quite a few windows, they exploded and a powerful fire entered.”

In Portugal, temperatures dropped over the weekend, but the risk of forest fires remained very high, the Portuguese Institute of Meteorology said.

About 1,000 firefighters, supported by 284 vehicles and 18 aircraft, were battling 10 wildfires, mostly in northern regions, authorities said. Two people died trying to flee the flames in a car in the northern region of Murca, according to media reports.

Belgium and Germany were among the countries expecting the heatwave to hit them in the coming days.

The EU said it was monitoring raging wildfires in southern member states yesterday, sending a firefighting aircraft to Slovenia over the weekend, adding to recent deployments to France and Portugal .

“We are of course continuing to monitor the situation during this unprecedented heat wave and will continue to mobilize support if necessary,” spokesman Balazs Ujvari told a press briefing.

In the Gironde region of southwestern France, fires have destroyed 14,800 hectares, local authorities said yesterday. More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from the area. France has issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, urging residents to “be extremely vigilant”.

In Italy, where smaller fires have broken out, forecasters expect temperatures above 40C in several regions in the coming days.

Switzerland also suffered the effects of the heat wave. Axpo, the operator of the Beznau nuclear power plant, said it was forced to reduce its production so as not to overheat the Aare river from which it draws its cooling water.

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