Heat wave smashes European records

People across Europe are doing what they can to keep cool as Sahara heat rolls over the continent.
People across Europe are doing what they can to keep cool as Sahara heat rolls over the continent.

Belgian zookeepers have fed tigers with chickens encased in giant ice cubes as northern Europe bakes in record temperatures during another heat wave that climate experts believe could become the new normal.

For the second time in a month, a high pressure system drew scorching air from the Sahara Desert, breaking records for Belgium and the Netherlands on Wednesday and threatening the same in Britain, Germany and France in a streak that is due to last until Friday.

In Spain, a wildfire in the northern province of Zaragoza was almost under control but there was a risk of further outbreaks, especially in eastern parts, where the temperature was set to rise as high as 41C.

Italian authorities issued fire alerts for the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where temperatures were expected to climb above 40C, and put 13 cities on their highest "red" weather alert, warning of a possible health threat for everyone, not just the frail and infirm.

In Portugal, the largest wildfire so far this year, which raged at the weekend, was put out by more than 1,000 firefighters on Tuesday but the country remained on high alert.

Further north, the temperature in Belgium struck 39.9C, smashing the country's previous high of 36.6C in June 1947 and it is set to be even hotter on Thursday.

The temperature was set to exceed the local record of 40.4C on Thursday in Paris, where the chief architect of rebuilding at the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral said the heat wave risked precipitating the collapse of the vaulted ceiling.

The Netherlands hit its own record high of 38.8C, breaking a record set 1944.

So did Germany, where the country's meteorological office said the record of 40.5C set on Wednesday would likely stand for a single day: another record was all but sure to be set on Thursday.

Britain's Met Office forecast a record high for July of 38C would be hit in southeast England.

At Pairi Daiza, a zoo in western Belgium, keepers fed chickens inside giant ice cubes to their tigers and watermelons, also encased in ice, to their bears.

"We made caves with air-conditioning inside for pandas, as they are the most vulnerable to such hot weather, but they still prefer to stay outside because they love the space," zoo spokesman Mathieu Goedefroy said.

Climate specialists said such heat waves are becoming more frequent as a result of global warming.

"With further climate change there could be a 50 per cent chance of having hot summers in future. That's similar to saying that a normal summer in future will be as hot as our hottest summers to date," said Declan Finney, a research fellow at the University of Leeds in Britain.

Australian Associated Press