Extreme heat wave sees temperatures above 40C in France and Spain

People flocked to parks and swimming pools across Western Europe over the weekend for some respite from an early heat wave that saw the mercury soar above 40C in France and Spain.

In Germany, where highs of 38C were expected, the health minister urged vulnerable groups to stay hydrated.

“Heat and too little fluid can be deadly for the elderly,” tweeted Karl Lauterbach. “We have to keep an eye on the elderly and the disabled today.”

Meanwhile, officials have warned of wildfires in the western Mediterranean region as high temperatures and a long dry spell have created combustible conditions.

Eva-Maria Gödde from North Rhine-Westphalia cools off in the midday sun with a glass full of ice cubes, in Harz, Germany, on Saturday (local time).

The European Commission’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service said the fire risk was “extreme” and “very extreme” in much of Spain, France’s Rhone Valley, Sardinia, Sicily and parts of mainland Italy.

The 27-nation bloc has put 12 firefighting planes and a helicopter on standby to help countries battling major fires this summer.

Meteorologists in France described the situation as “truly exceptional” and predicted that a peak of 43C could be reached on Saturday (local time) before thunderstorms bring cooler weather from the Atlantic.

READ MORE: Climate change contributes to increase in extreme weather

Experts say the early heat wave is a sign of what is to come, as climate change makes extreme temperatures normally seen only in July and August more likely in June as well.