By Rob Picheta, CNN
Hundreds of millions of people around the world were sweltering in extreme heat on Wednesday, as record heatwaves set swathes of the European countryside ablaze, scorched the United States and put dozens of Chinese cities on alert.
Five separate high-pressure weather systems in the northern hemisphere, which are linked by atmospheric waves, have brought unprecedented temperatures to several continents. The United Kingdom shattered its all-time heat mark on Tuesday, as did several cities in Texas and Oklahoma, including Wichita Falls, which reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday.
As Europe’s heat wave moves east, wildfires have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, blanketing parts of Italy, Greece and France in smoke. Germany recorded its hottest day of the year with temperatures reaching 104.5 F (40.3 C) at a measuring station in Bad Mergentheim-Neunkirchen in the center of the country, while Hungary and Italy were hit with high temperatures of around 100F (nearly 38C) in places.
On Wednesday, the European Forest Fire Information System put 19 European countries on “extreme danger” alert for wildfires, spanning a stretch from Portugal and Spain in the southwest to Albania and Turkey to the southeast.
There has been some respite in the UK, where temperatures have fallen from a record high of 40.3C (104.5F) on Tuesday in 20 years. But some residential areas around London have been left in ruins after fires broke out in parts of the capital, stretching fire services to their limits.
“Yesterday was the busiest day for firefighters in London since the Second World War,” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told Sky News on Wednesday as residents of the capital watched their homes being destroyed by fires triggered by heat that they never thought possible.
A resident of Wennington, a London suburb affected by the fires on Tuesday, told CNN the gardens on his street were “like a powder keg” in the days leading up to the blaze. Stock lost his house, eight chickens and two beehives when the fire broke out.
“I didn’t sleep last night. I was in the hotel room thinking how bad it could have been. I just thank God that everyone got out alive,” he said. “We have lost everything. But when we get back, we can clean up the site, put up some fencing, buy a few mobile homes and we’ll start over.
London had no fire engines available at one point in the afternoon amid unprecedented demand, a senior firefighter with the London Fire Department’s Special Rescue Team told CNN.
In the United States, local leaders are urging caution and issuing health warnings as a heat wave that shows no signs of abating before the weekend continues to bake south-central regions of the country.
And in China, millions of densely populated cities are reacting to the extreme heat. According to the China Meteorological Administration, at least 31 Chinese cities have issued the second-highest orange alert warning, with temperatures expected to reach 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 24 hours.
Europe is burning in record heat
Greece: On the outskirts of the Greek capital, Athens, firefighters are tackling vast blazes fanned by the wind. At least 600 people were evacuated, including from a children’s hospital, authorities said. One person has died and 30 have been transferred to hospitals in the capital’s Attica region, Greek firefighters said on Wednesday.
“Our absolute priority remains the safeguard of human lives. But also that of vital public infrastructure as well as citizens’ properties,” spokesman Ioannis Artopoios said in a previous televised briefing.
Huge clouds of smoke remain visible in the city on Wednesday, despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters. Romanian firefighter teams were mobilized to assist the operation.
Italy: Fires are also being fought in parts of Italy. Wildfires in Tuscany blew up gas tanks and forced evacuations overnight, according to regional president Eugenio Giani.
Germany: In Alsdorf, western Germany, three residents and two firefighters were injured in a blaze on Tuesday, and much of the country is poised for more fires as temperatures rise on Wednesday.
France: In France, planes continued to dump water on scorching landscapes. The fires have been raging there for a week now, when they progressed “very little” Tuesday evening in Gironde, according to local authorities. Smoke swirled above the Brennilis nuclear power station in Brittany on Wednesday morning.
Just as the British Prime Minister has been criticized for his lack of preparation for the heat wave, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron is also under pressure to react more quickly to the heat and the fires, which have already burned 25 times more land in France than France. during the same period. last year, government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the president of the burnt-out region of Gironde asked that additional resources, including firefighting planes, be diverted there.
A campsite owner told CNN affiliate BFMTV on Tuesday that “we have requests” for Macron, who will travel to the ravaged southwest on Wednesday.
“We hope that he will be able to order the public services very quickly to help us, to accompany us in the administrative procedures to restore the campsite to working order as soon as possible”, declared Stéphane Carella, co-owner of Pyla Camping. whose site was destroyed by fire.
“It all went up in smoke,” he said, with about 90% of his property affected by the fire. Carella described the remains of the site as “apocalyptic”.
High temperatures sweep across the United States
The scorching weather in the United States has so far centered on parts of the South and is causing particular concern for the well-being of the elderly, vulnerable and homeless.
In Texas, 14 prisons have no air conditioning and 55 have only partially functioning systems, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) told CNN in an email. Texas has experienced at least four heat waves this season, a hot streak that began to impact the state before the official start of summer. Since May 1, more than half of their days have come with some level of heat alert.
As temperatures in neighboring Arizona hit triple digits Tuesday afternoon, about 7,000 people lost power due to severe storms, a spokesman for the Arizona Public Service Company said.
In some areas, such as Miami-Dade County and Phoenix, local governments have hired heat officers to help residents battle the heat.
Much of the north of the country and parts of Canada are also bracing for higher temperatures. Philadelphia declared a “heat warning” beginning at noon Tuesday and extending through 8 p.m. ET Thursday, the city said in an email to CNN. It also declared a “code red” alert for homeless people in the area.
The Canadian government issued heat and severe thunderstorm advisories in at least four provinces on Tuesday.
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CNN’s Elinda Labropoulou, Chris Stern, Nina dos Santos, Robert Shackleford, Madalena Araujo, Alex Hardie, Bianca Nobilo, Dave Alsup, Renée Bertini and Joseph Ataman contributed reporting.