Madrid (AFP) -
Thousands of firefighters on Friday battled wildfires in France, Portugal and Spain in the face of scorching heatwaves as Britain braced for 'extreme' heat in the coming days.
Swathes of southwest Europe are enduring their second heatwave in weeks as scientists say such extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.
In Portugal, five regions in the centre and north were on red heatwave alert on Friday and nearly the entire country remained on wildfire alert as more than 2,000 firefighters tackled four blazes.
As of late Thursday, the fires had killed one person and injured around 60. Nearly 900 people had been evacuated and several dozen homes damaged or destroyed, Portuguese authorities said.
Wildfires have destroyed 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of land this year, the largest area since the fires of 2017, in which around 100 people died.
Just over the border in Spain, a fire broke out on Thursday near the Monfrague National Park, a protected area renowned for its wildlife.
Extremadura, where the park is located, has seen thousands of hectares burned this week.
In southwestern France, flames have destroyed more than 7,000 hectares since Tuesday and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.
One fire was raging in pine forests near the Dune du Pilat, Europe's tallest sand dune and a magnet for tourists.
'I've never seen this before and you get the feeling that it's post-apocalyptic really,' said resident Karyn on Thursday shortly before the preventative evacuation order of the village of Cazaux near Dune du Pilat.
- Record highs -
On Thursday, Portugal recorded its highest ever temperature for July, at 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit). In central Spain, the mercury reached 45.4C on Thursday, just shy of the all-time high of 47.4C registered in August last year.
On Friday, temperatures were forecast to top 41C in parts of Portugal and 44C in parts of Spain on Friday.
Southern France, which hit 38C on Thursday, was expected to reach 40C on Friday and is bracing for more heat early next week.
Britain's meteorological agency on Friday issued its first ever 'red' warning for exceptional heat, forecasting record highs of 40C next week.
The Met Office said there was a 50-percent chance of temperatures topping 40°C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on Monday or Tuesday, and an 80-percent chance that the country's previous record of 38.7C set in 2019 will be exceeded.
'Nights are also likely to be exceptionally warm, especially in urban areas,' said Met Office chief meteorologist Paul Gundersen.
'This is likely to lead to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure. This level of heat can have adverse health effects.'
A red warning is issued when it is 'very likely that there will be a risk to life, with substantial disruption to travel, energy supplies and possibly widespread damage to property and infrastructure'.
UK hospitals have already warned of a surge in heat-related admissions and train operators have told passengers to expect cancellations.