Europe's heatwave gripped Spain and Portugal today as governments checked for forest fires, a Budapest game reserve fed its animals iced snacks and a Finnish supermarket invited customers to sleep over to stay cool.

Summer has brought drought and forest fires as far apart as Britain and Greece, where scores of people died, and Sweden warned of forest fires today.

Hot air from North Africa has caused the most severe heatwave since 2003 in Iberia.

Portugal's Civil Protection agency reported 426 firefighters were putting out or checking fire alerts in the north and centre. Fires typically flare late in the day when the weather is hottest.

Spanish and Portuguese temperatures will remain aboHelve 40C at least until Sunday, and could rise two or three degrees. That could push them above Europe's record high of 48C, set in Athens in 1977.

Heatwave France
People shelter from the sun under umbrellas as they look out over the Mediterranean in Nice, France

The record in both Spain and Portugal is just over 47C. In Portugal, local media said temperatures could beat Death Valley in California, one of the world's hottest places.

"Lisbon will be one of the hottest cities in the world this weekend because it's 10 in the morning right now and the weather is already way too hot," said Ana Pascoal, 56, a cleaner at a high-end restaurant.

Lisbon's temperature reached 43C today.

Parts of Portugal's parched southern Alentejo region were forecast to hit 47C. The country is on alert to prevent a repeat of its worst fires in history last year when 114 people died.

Francois Jobard, a forecaster for Meteo France, said the hot air mass from North Africa could cause temperatures in Portugal and Spain to hit 45C until tomorrow and perhaps hotter.

Last month, wildfires killed at least 91 people in Greece.

Spanish authorities issued a heatwave warning for most of central Spain, expected to last until Sunday with temperatures of over 42C in some parts of Andalusia and Extremadura.

Two men died of heat-stroke in the southeastern region of Murcia, Cadena Ser radio station reported on Wednesday.

A branch of the K-Supermarket chain in Helsinki's Pohjois-Haaga district has invited 100 customers to sleep in its air-conditioned store tomorrow.

Finland's August average is 19C but temperatures approached 30C this week and few people have air-conditioning at home. 

Switzerland heatwave
People cool off in the Allondon River in Dardagny near Geneva, Switzerland

In Germany, state rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it was offering free water to passengers in case of delays and would keep air conditioning running on its trains even when they are empty.

Tourists took shelter under umbrellas outside the Louvre Museum in Paris and ignored 'No Bathing' signs to paddle in the fountains.

"We're here for two days, so we're going for it," said David Jones from England, cooling off by the fountains with his wife.

Martina Ihrig, an office worker from Germany, said she was delaying visiting the Eiffel Tower with her three daughters until evening.

"It's too hot to visit it now," she said.

In Switzerland, mountain railways reported booming business as city dwellers fled to the Alps. Fishery authorities in the canton of Zurich were combing creeks to rescue fish from suffocation as streams dry up or oxygen levels plunge.

The Swiss army let soldiers wear shorts and T-shirts instead of standard uniforms.

The small Budakeszi game reserve outside the Hungarian capital Budapest said it was helping its animals cope with the heat with iced fruit and a diet with less meat and more nutrients.

In another sign of drought, water levels in the Danube River in Budapest are about to fall to a level that will expose a small outcrop called Dearth Rock that is almost always underwater, the National Water Management Authority said.

In Scandinavia, temperatures hit records until a few days ago. In Sweden July was a record month and wildfires burnt in parts of the country.

Authorities in Sweden and Poland warned against swimming due to a bloom of toxic algae spreading caused by hot weather.