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The mercury hit an eye-watering 46.6C (115.9F) in the Spanish town of El Granado – less than two degrees off a European record.

Portugal and Spain endured scorching sunshine on a day which seriously threatened to break a 30-year European heat record.

The mercury hit an eye-watering 46.6C (115.9F) in the Spanish town of El Granado at 4pm on Saturday, falling just 0.3C (32.5F) shy of a national high and 1.4C (34.5F) away from a continental record.

Athens in Greece saw temperatures of 48C (118.4F) in 1977.
Such was the intensity of the heat, the Spanish interior ministry issued multiple alerts for forest fires and urged people to stay under cover as much as possible.

The warning followed the deaths of three men due to heatstroke earlier this week.

It was a similar situation in Portugal, where it peaked at 46.4C (115.5F) in Alvega. Its highest temperature ever recorded was in the southeastern city of Amareleja, which hit 47.4C (117F) in 2003.

The record may not have fallen but the heat certainly made its mark, forcing more than 400 firefighters to battle a forest blaze near the Monchique mountain range in the Algarve.

Crews evacuated a nearby village and used planes and helicopters, as well as 121 vehicles on the ground, to bring the flames under control.

And in Evora, it was reported from an unusually quiet town square as locals and tourists alike heeded advice and avoided the midday sun as temperatures climbed to within touching distance of those experienced in one of the hottest places on Earth – Death Valley in California.

To prepare, authorities in Lisbon closed playgrounds and called on people to avoid picnics and outdoor activities.

But it was not just southern Europe where the heat was keenly felt.

The great British heatwave continued unabated and there were similarly sweltering conditions to endure across the likes of France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

In France, the health ministry has rolled out a TV and radio campaign alerting people to the dangers to be posed over the weekend, with the country’s most intense heatwave since 2006 expected.

Four nuclear reactors have already been shut due to the heat.

The Austrian capital of Vienna has seen highs of 34C (93.2F), forcing police to equip their canine partners with special shoes to protect their vulnerable paws.

In Germany, the heat caused the death of scores of fish in Hamburg’s Alster river.

The water’s temperature rose to a record 27.5C (81.5F), dangerously reducing the water’s oxygen levels, and there was also concern for the health of its famous resident swans.

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