Europe heads indoors for hottest summer since 1949

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The Independent Online

One of the few queues on the otherwise deserted streets of the French capital yesterday was for the "fogger" - a 30-metre covered walkway that sprays a cooling mist of water onto any pedestrian still heat-resistant enough to venture down to the Hôtel de Ville as part of the Paris-Plage summer festival.

One of the few queues on the otherwise deserted streets of the French capital yesterday was for the "fogger" - a 30-metre covered walkway that sprays a cooling mist of water onto any pedestrian still heat-resistant enough to venture down to the Hôtel de Ville as part of the Paris-Plage summer festival.

Everyone else who could, was indoors yesterday, packed into air-conditioned bistros and fleeing the usually fashionable outdoor café terraces whose scaldingly hot tables and chairs were slowly sinking into the warm, spongy asphalt of the pavements. Paris is having its hottest summer since 1949, and its most ozone-rich experience ever. Across the country, new "hottest-ever" temperatures are recorded daily - yesterday Caen, Rennes, Tours, Auxerre and Montélimar were on the list with temperatures ranging from 37.8C to 41C.

Employers are making special provisions for their sweltering workers. On the assembly line at Peugeot Sochaux it is 36C and workers have been given an extra 15-minute break each day. The Cristallerie d'Arques glass factory near Calais has extended the hours of its air-conditioned canteen.

Resurgent forest fires in France, Italy, Spain and especially Portugal are stretching the Continent's airborne fire-extinguishing capacities. Yesterday, Lisbon asked Nato to send as many as six Canadair waterbombers and three large helicopters equipped to dump water on eight fires that have already claimed 14 lives.

In Germany, civil servants in non-essential jobs have won the right to leave their workplaces early if the temperature rises above 29C. Flexitime will allow tax officers and social workers to make up the lost hours in the winter months. In several banks, staff have been given permission to wear short-sleeved shirts.

Even in heat-seasoned Spain where flexitime is cultural in the summer, some concessions are having to be made to this year's exceptional temperatures. In Bilbao in the north, where the temperature reached 42C on Monday, shopkeepers' evening opening hours have largely been moved later into the night.

Italians like to think that engineering can solve everything, which is why banking staff at Unicredit in Rimini went on strike in June when their air conditioning broke down. They inspired 1,700 Roman civil servants to refuse to go back to work until an air-cooling system was installed. It worked.

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