LONDON — Britain was preparing on Saturday for a potentially life-threatening heat wave, with temperatures expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the first time early next week.
Workers were spreading grit on the roads, fearing they would melt without protection. Schools said they would move classes remotely. And Transport for London, the city’s transit agency, urged people not to travel on Monday and Tuesday because rail tracks could bend or buckle in the heat.
The British government’s top emergency committee, Cobra, was also planning an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the response to the extreme weather.
On Friday, Britain’s national weather service issued the most severe warning it has for heat, putting parts of England under a red alert for Monday and Tuesday. It was the first time that the warning had been applied to extreme heat, said Alex Deakin, a meteorologist with the service, known as the Met Office.
In a country largely without air-conditioning, the unprecedented warning after a spell of already hot days left people steeling themselves amid a flurry of measures from the authorities.
The front pages of British newspapers on Saturday warned of the coming “meltdown” and advised people on how to handle the sizzling temperatures.
The heat wave in Britain also comes as part of a broader weather system that has baked parts of Europe this past week and fanned wildfires in France, Portugal and Spain.
In France, wildfires have torn through thousands of acres in the country’s south and southwest, with more havoc expected in the coming days because of unpredictable, shifting winds.
The most serious fire was in the Gironde area, near the city of Bordeaux, where, so far, over 22,000 acres of vegetation have burned, and more than 12,000 people have been evacuated from their homes or from campsites, according to the local authorities, with some sleeping on cots in gymnasiums or event halls.
Météo France, the national weather forecaster, predicted temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius or more on the country’s Atlantic coast from Sunday to Tuesday.
In Greece, firefighters fought more than 50 blazes, the largest on the island of Crete and in the Saronikos region southeast of Athens.
And Spain reached a record-breaking 114 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday in the southern province of Huelva. The country was also fighting to put out dozens of wildfires.
“Obviously, the longer the heat wave, the greater the repercussions as far as the issue of forest fires, and also on people’s health,” said Rubén del Campo, a spokesman for Spain’s metereological agency.
With many older homes lacking air-conditioning, some people said they were trying to keep cool in other ways.
In Herguijela de la Sierra, a village near Salamanca in Spain’s interior, Juana Cerezo said that during heat waves, she pulled her mattress onto a terrace overnight to deal with the heat.
“It’s too hot to sleep inside my house,” she said.
In Italy, temperatures have been well above the seasonal average and are expected to peak next week at 40 degrees Celsius. On Friday afternoon, street vendors dozed off in the shade while tourists filled their water bottles from Rome’s iconic fountains, using them to wet their hair.
“Hot is relatively normal for July in Rome,” said Stefano Augusto, 57, a flower vendor in a central Roman square, as the temperature hit 35 degrees Celsius.
“The problem is that it has been so hot for almost two months now,” he said. “We are very tired already.”
Climate scientists have said that global warming is making extreme temperatures more common, but they are investigating whether specific weather events are intensifying or becoming more likely because of human-induced warming of the climate.
“Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the U.K.,” Nikos Christidis, a climate attribution scientist at the Met Office, said in a news release, adding that the likelihood of experiencing such record-breaking heat in Britain had already increased and would continue.
Reporting was contributed by Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Niki Kitsantonis from Athens, Gaia Pianigiani from Rome, Francheska Melendez from Madrid and Christine Hauser from London.