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The European heat wave is spreading northward, fueling wildfire and drought dangers


Western Europe is in the grips of a brutal heat wave that is breaking records and spreading further north than ever before. Britain registered its highest ever temperature at over 104 degrees in London. And wildfires have broken out across Portugal, Spain and France, killing hundreds. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I've just come out of my own apartment into the street. And I've lived here a pretty long time, and I think I've never felt such hot air. It's 8 o'clock at night. The sun is still baking, and there's a hot wind. It does not feel like Paris.

FRANCOIS JOBARD: I am Francois Jobard. I'm a weather forecaster in Meteo France in Paris.

BEARDSLEY: Jobard agrees it doesn't feel like Paris, where the average summer temperature is around 80. He switches to French to get more technical.

JOBARD: (Through interpreter) This afternoon was 105 degrees, the second hottest day registered in Paris in 150 years since the first weather station was put in the Central Park in 1873. From then until 2019, there was only one day where it got that hot, and that was in 1947.

BEARDSLEY: Jobard says the heatwaves will become more frequent and intense because greenhouse gases have undeniably caused global warming. He says the current heat dome is due to air from North Africa and the Sahara Desert that's stagnating over Europe. Sebastian Mernild is a professor of climate change and glaciology at the Climate Institute of the University of Southern Denmark. I reached him on the phone in Italy, where he's on vacation.

SEBASTIAN MERNILD: That's right. So I'm just walking on the street with my family here.

BEARDSLEY: Mernild says warm air from Africa is going farther north because the jet stream is weakening and becoming more unstable. And that's happening because arctic temperatures are rising faster than everywhere else.

MERNILD: The Arctic actually heats up, roughly speaking, on average, three times faster compared to the global mean temperature change.

BEARDSLEY: The Arctic is heating up three times faster than everywhere else. Mernild says it will all get worse until we reduce our greenhouse emissions. In Paris, most apartments don't have air conditioning. I wanted to see how Parisians are coping.

ADNAN ABADI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: I lower the shades to keep the sun out and close the windows all day. And when I get up in the morning very early, I open them and try to get some fresh air in. And I have the fans going, says Adnan Abadi.

(Speaking French).

Another woman tells me she has no time to talk because she's got a bag of ice that's melting. And her little son, who's holding her hand, is not well from the heat and sun. Many people say they haven't felt heat like this since the summer of 2003, when more than 30,000 mostly elderly people died across Europe with 14,000 deaths in France alone. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.