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U.K. Heat Wave Sends Temperatures to Record Highs

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LONDON—The U.K. recorded its highest-ever temperatures on Tuesday with readings of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, as a heat wave scorched the nation and sparked fires around the capital.

A provisional reading of 40.3 degrees Celsius was recorded in the village of Coningsby in eastern England, according to the national meteorological service, surpassing the previous record of 38.7 degrees set in July 2019.

Over the course of the day, at least 34 places across the country broke the previous record, the service said.

Several blazes broke out across London—including a large fire in a residential area—that authorities said were caused in part by the record-breaking temperatures.

“The recent hot, dry weather has made the ground extremely dry, which unfortunately means grassland and parks will burn quickly when exposed to even the smallest of sparks,” said a spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter that the brigade was under “immense pressure” and warned citizens to stay safe.

Tuesday has been the second successive day of scorching weather in the nation. The U.K. government has declared a national emergency because of the heat, while the national meteorological service, the Met Office, triggered its first-ever “red extreme heat warning” across England. Throughout the country, schools and summer camps have closed, hospitals have canceled routine visits and transport has been disrupted, with many railways and the London subway system urging customers to stay at home.

The heat warped runways at U.K. airports on Monday, forcing the international Luton Airport to suspend all flights until early evening. The Met Office has warned against melting asphalt on roads and has advised citizens not to travel.

“In this country we’re used to treating a hot spell as a chance to go and play in the sun,” said Penny Endersby, chief executive at the Met Office, in a press release. “This is not that sort of weather.”

The searing heat has descended on the U.K. against a backdrop of extreme weather across Europe.

Temperatures in parts of Spain and France have climbed to their highest in history. Hundreds of people have died and thousands have been evacuated, with 659 dead in Portugal alone.

In southwestern France, firefighters were struggling on Tuesday to contain wildfires that were raging out of control. Two fires have destroyed more than 47,691 acres of pine forests over the past week in the Gironde region, forcing the evacuation of more than 34,000 people, local authorities said. Thick smoke filled the air in the city of Bordeaux, where health authorities advised people to stay indoors.

The fire destroyed five campsites near the Dune of Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe and a popular tourist destination. About 2,000 firefighters and 10 water-bomber planes were deployed across the area, local authorities said Tuesday.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron will travel to the Gironde region on Wednesday, according to a close presidential aide.

In the U.K., Bob Ward, communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said he wasn’t just worried about the elderly and vulnerable, but healthy people too.

Scientists have warned that climate change is likely to make weather of this severity more common.

Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, said, “Climate change is an absolute game-changer for heat waves.”

“It would have been almost impossible to see temperatures of 40 degrees in London without climate change,” Dr. Otto said.

Firefighters have been battling blazes across Europe as temperatures in parts of the continent rose to 115 degrees Fahrenheit and dry conditions helped the fires to spread quickly. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes. Photo: Lorena Sopana/Zuma Press

Corrections & Amplifications
The U.K.’s previous record temperature of 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit was set in July 2019. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the date was June 2019. (Corrected on July 19)

Write to Elissa Miolene at elissa.miolene@wsj.com

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