London – Britain recorded its first-ever temperature above the 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) mark on Tuesday,that many in the UK thought it would take years more to achieve. The mercury tentatively recorded 40.2C at Heathrow Airport, the country’s weather agency, the Met Office, said.
The new record was set less than an hour after Britain surpassed its previous record temperature of around 102 degrees, recorded in the east of England in 2019.
The same heat wave is fueling devastating wildfires in southern France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, driving tens of thousands of people from their homes.
But the extreme temperatures are particularly shocking for the UK, where neither residents nor infrastructure are prepared for such heat. Only around 5% of UK homes are believed to have air conditioning.
Countries further south, however, suffered the most this week.
As Spanish firefighters scramble to put out dozens of wildfires from the ground and from the air, desperate locals have tried to step in to fight the blazes.
The video captured the moment a farmer’s clothes caught fire as he tried to dig a trench to prevent the fire from approaching his property. He managed to escape, but was badly burned.
Authorities have already blamed more than 1,000 deaths on the current heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal.
In France, hot winds have hampered efforts to contain wildfires that have scorched tens of thousands of hectares, and meteorologists have warned that parts of the country are facing what they have called an “apocalypse thermal”.
But as hot air from the Sahara Desert blows north, it’s up to Britain to bake in Tuesday’s record high temperatures. Some places were expected to reach 108 degrees.
Citing a ‘huge rise in fires in the capital’, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pleaded with locals and visitors to be more careful with barbecues, cigarette butts and other litter as firefighters battled the fires started or fueled by dry conditions.
On Monday, Luton Airport in London was forced to suspend flights after part of the runway simply melted away. Hundreds of trains have been canceled and people have been warned to avoid public transport, stay hydrated and keep cool as best they can.
KJ Oguama, visiting London from Belfast, told CBS News she plans to take her two children to an air-conditioned mall on Tuesday after cooling off in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.
“There is air conditioning in the hotel,” she said. “We rang ahead to be sure.”
Scientists say heat waves have become more frequent, intense and longer lasting.
“Climate change has everything to do with the extreme weather we’re seeing right now, and it’s human-induced.it’s not a natural variation,” Kirsty McCabe, a meteorologist at the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society, told CBS News.
When asked if weather like this was likely to become the norm for Britain and its neighbours, she left little room for doubt.
“Unfortunately, yes. That’s exactly where we’re headed right now,” McCabe said, “if we don’t take drastic action, we’ll continue to see these things happen.”