Carpentras (France) (AFP) - France on Friday recorded its hottest ever temperature of 44.3 degrees Celsius, as Europe sweltered in an early summer heatwave already blamed for several deaths.
With France, Spain, Italy and parts of central Europe particularly badly hit by the high temperatures, officials urged people to take common sense precautions -- complaining that this was not always the case.
The record temperature of 44.3 degrees Celsius (111.7 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in France's southeastern town of Carpentras.
It beat the previous national record of 44.1 degrees Celsius recorded in Saint-Christol-les-Ales and Conqueyrac during the notorious August 2003 heatwave, state weather forecaster Meteo-France told AFP.
Meteo-France's Etienne Kapikian said it was "very probable" the record would be beaten again Friday as it was still relatively early in the day.
"(The temperature) will continue to climb and, in some places, we could pass 44 degrees Celsius," he said.
The centre of Carpentras was almost deserted in the middle of the day, with cafe owners contemplating empty terraces which usually would be packed.
"We have never seen this!" one exclaimed.
- 'Avoidable deaths' -
At least two deaths linked to the heatwave were reported in Spain.
After feeling dizzy while helping harvest wheat in the southern Andalusia region, a Spanish teenager collapsed with convulsions when he took a dip in a swimming pool to cool off.
He was rushed to hospital in the town of Cordoba where he later died, the regional government said.
Elsewhere in Spain, a 93-year-old man collapsed and died on the street in the northern city of Valladolid, police said, giving heatstroke as the cause of death.
Heat-related deaths have also been reported in Italy, France and Germany, mainly among the elderly.
France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003 which exposed the shortcomings of emergency services at the height of the summer holidays.
That year, nearly 15,000 people are estimated to have died because of the heat, many of them elderly people at home.
"I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens -- there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave," said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
In Montpellier, 81-year-old Suzette Allegre was up early to do her shopping.
By 8:00 am, "the sun is already burning hot and you can smell the pollution," she told AFP, saying she was rushing home to barricade herself indoors.
Scientists warn that global warming linked to human fossil fuel use could make such scorchers more frequent.
- Fire hydrants uncapped -
French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn warned those tempted to plunge into cold water, both young and old, to do so only in designated public bathing areas, adding that four people had drowned since the beginning of the week.
On Thursday, Buzyn complained that despite a barrage of public health warnings on radio, TV and on public transport, some parents were still leaving their children in hot cars and joggers were out exercising in the midday heat.
Also Thursday, a six-year-old Syrian child was seriously injured in the Saint-Denis neighbourhood north of Paris after being catapulted into the air by water gushing from an open fire hydrant and then crashing to the ground.
In the Italian city of Milan, a 72-year-old homeless man was found dead at the main train station on Thursday after falling ill due to the heatwave.
A day earlier, at least four people died in Germany in bathing accidents.
- Spanish inferno -
In Spain, firefighters were continuing to battle a large forest fire in the northeastern Catalonia region.
Catalonia's forest service said the fire likely began when an "improperly managed" pile of manure at a chicken farm spontaneously combusted in the extreme heat.
Hundreds of firefighters backed by troops and aerial water bombers were trying to bring it under control.
They were hampered by roasting 44-degree temperatures and very low humidity according to David Borrell, head of the Catalan fire department.
Spain's north-east was on red heatwave alert denoting "extreme risk".
The stifling temperatures have caused air quality to nosedive in some European cities, prompting local authorities to take anti-pollution measures.
In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, authorities have banned the most polluting cars from the roads in recent days.