Spain, France and other western European nations have sweltered under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns that such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

Today's weather was the peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists' predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The French southwestern town of Biarritz, one of the country's most sought-after seaside resorts, saw its highest all time temperature of 41C, state forecaster Meteo France said.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

With the River Seine off limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city's fountains.

Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42C in some areas, Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.

The Salindres river has dried during the French heatwave

"This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France" since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.

With "many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions," he called the weather a "marker of climate change".

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In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares of vegetation, local authorities said.

"There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety," said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe.

Fire services' work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area but four Canadair plans have been deployed to water bomb the fires.

A sprinkler is used to spray water to cool down a pigsty in Kerfourn, western France

Farmers in the country are having to adapt.

Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from "daybreak until 11.30am" and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55C.

Forest fires in Spain had burned nearly 20,000 hectares of land in the north-west Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return this morning, but regional authorities warned the fire "remains active".

Children use a paddling pool to cool down in the Saint-Jacques neighbourhood of Perpignan

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Temperatures above 40C were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday - with highs of 43C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures were forecast to go as high as 40C today although only reached 36C.

A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

A pharmacy sign displaying the temperature of 42.5C in Bordeaux

Dutch authorities said they expect today to be the hottest day of the year so far.

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 3)C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

"I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that's a concern," said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy's dairy cows were putting out 10 percent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows' "ideal climate" of 22-24C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

"As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier," said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

"What we're witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future" if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

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'Price for climate change'

A leading expert on climate change has said the record breaking heatwave sweeping across Europe is a consequence of global warming.

Professor John Sweeney, from the Geography Department at Maynooth University, said the high temperatures are "part and parcel of the price we're going to have to pay for climate change."

He said the ongoing weather is "a trend towards increasing extremes of temperature that we can expect to see as the global climate warms".

Prof Sweeney said: "We can now say with confidence that we can attribute such events with a very high probability to the consequences of climate change."

He told RTÉ News that "events like this are probably ten times less likely now to have occurred in the last century" and he said "we can expect to see them occurring with greater intensity and with greater frequency".

Prof Sweeney also said the world is "experiencing many aspects of climate change quicker than we anticipated a decade or so ago"

Met Éireann Meteorologist Linda Hughes said it is "very unusual" to see temperatures this high this early in the year.

She said temperatures have exceeded 40C in parts of Spain and France, compared to the average temperatures in France of around the mid-20s in June.

Ms Hughes said "so, with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s, it's certainly well above the average temperatures even for those parts of Europe."

She said there have also been "very high temperatures for this time of year" in parts of parts of England over the past couple of days.

Linda Hughes said Ireland is not due to be impacted by the heatwave, which equates to temperatures of 25C or higher for five days or more.

She said Ireland will experience "temperatures generally in the mid teens to high teens over the next few days, maybe 20 or 21 degrees over parts of the east and the south".

Ms Hughes also said "the extreme heatwave" across other European countries is due to ease over the coming days.

"Weather fronts are forecast to move in from the Atlantic and so they're going to bring a slight dip in temperatures, but still temperatures are going to be in the high 30s," she added.

Additional reporting Fergal O'Brien