Hotter than Death Valley: Europe burns, sweats in record heat

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Wildfires burned tracts of land in France and Spain at the weekend as Europe sweltered in record-breaking temperatures that pushed the mercury towards all-time highs on Sunday in Germany, killing at least seven people.

Temperatures in France’s southern Gard region hit an all-time high of 45.9 degrees Celsius (114.62°F) on Friday – hotter than in California’s Death Valley – sparking scores of fires that burned 550 hectares of land and destroyed several homes and vehicles.

One man died while competing on Saturday in a cycling race in the southwestern Ariege region, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The 53-year-old crashed after feeling unwell, local public prosecutor Laurent Dumaine said on Sunday, adding police were investigating the precise cause of death.

The race was called off after several participants were taken sick due to the heat, organizers said.

Another cyclist died in the southern region of Vaucluse, with authorities attributing the man’s collapse to the heatwave.

Meteorologists say a weakening of the high-level jet stream is increasingly causing weather systems to stall and leading summer temperatures to soar. Five of Europe’s hottest summers in the last 500 years have happened in this century.

Some 25 out of around 90 administrative departments in France have adopted limits on water use including for agriculture, which could affect harvest yields for summer crops like maize that are often irrigated.

“The heatwave has also hit the vineyards of Herault, widespread damage observed,” Jerome Despey, a wine producer in France’s southwestern Herault region and head of the local chamber of agriculture said on Twitter, posting photos of shriveled grapes.

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