Blue skies as Britain enjoys summer in April - a far cry from the blizzard of 1995

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Two years ago the daffodils were covered in a snowy winter blanket. Yesterday the same flowers basked in temperatures which seemed like summer. Britain was hotter than Los Angeles, Algiers and Athens, as temperatures hit the 70s in the earliest spring for seven years. There is some way to go beat the record temperature for this point in the year - 26.5C (79.7F) on 4 April 1946, at Greenwich Observatory.

But the blue skies were more than enough to bring smiles to the faces of seaside traders and sunseekers. Two thousand people crowded on to the beach at Bournemouth and a brave few even paddled in the water. Weston- super-Mare was "much busier than usual for the time of year", according to the tourist information officer, and at Brighton, where the temperature was 19C (66F), up to 10,000 people made the scene look more like August than April. Boots the chemist sold a record number of pairs of sunglasses - and litres of bottled water and sun cream. More people paid heed to cancer warnings and chose higher factors, although there were also sales of sunburn ointments.

A London Weather Centre spokesman said the hottest place in Britain yesterday was Southampton airport, at 22C (72F) compared with an April average of 11C (52F).

Today will be cooler with dips in temperatures as low as 9 or 10C (50F). But by Sunday, there will be sunshine everywhere once more.

After 10 days with no rainfall in London, the bookmakers William Hill have cut the odds on a dry April to 16-1 compared with 66-1 at the beginning of the month. "We could end up being real April fools," said a spokesman, Graham Sharpe. "Punters are gambling on a scorching dry summer."

But the sunshine has its downsides. Britain could be heading for a record year for fires in the countryside. Blazes in parklands and heaths are for the first time the most common type of fires, suggesting that global warming may be having an irreversible effect on countryside safety. Fire brigades were called to more than 600,000 incidents in 1995 - an increase of 26 per cent on the previous year - largely as a result of the dry spells. There were 174,500 grassland and heathland fires, a 131-per- cent rise from 75,000 in 1994. This year fires have already destroyed parts of Dartmoor and forests in Cheshire.