Air conditioning is uncommon in many of the areas hit by the heat wave.

ROME (AP) – Roadways buckled under the scorching sun in Germany, water levels on the Danube and other rivers dropped and wildfires forced tourists and residents to flee Wednesday as record-breaking heat, blamed for at least 37 deaths, tormented Europe.

Londoners experienced the hottest day in the city’s history when the temperature hit 95.7 degrees Fahrenheit, beating the 95 degrees recorded in 1990.

The day’s high in Paris – 103 degrees – fell just shy of the record 104.7 set in 1947.

“One can safely say that this is one of the hottest summers of the last 50 years,” said Capt. Alessandro Fuccello, of the Italian air force’s meteorology office.

He was speaking about Italy, but the heat wave was the hottest in recent memory in much of Europe.

Fuccello blamed the heat wave on a high-pressure area sitting over southern Europe for 21/2 months.

Experts from Italy’s state-funded CNR research center said the heat wave was among the five worst in the past 150 years. They linked the combination of exceptional heat and drought to intense monsoon activity in Africa and said the situation would likely last until September.

Air conditioning is uncommon in much of northern Europe because it doesn’t usually get so hot and it’s discouraged in the south, where temperatures are often warmer, because of high energy costs.

A few hotels in Frankfurt were slashing rates to offer an air-conditioned break to city residents struggling with sleepless nights.

Suffocatingly hot air and high temperatures helped fuel brush and forest fires from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Exhausted firefighters were battling Portugal’s worst wildfires in recent memory. The discovery of two bodies in a charred forest 190 miles northeast of Lisbon brought the death toll in that country to at least 14.

“They were cornered by fire” on Tuesday, said Antonio Gualdino, spokesman for Portugal’s National Fire Coordination Center.

Two people in southern Spain died of heat stroke, raising the death toll to 14 in the heat wave stifling much of the country. Among the deaths was a firefighter who had a heart attack Tuesday after battling a blaze.

Forest fires fanned by hot winds near the French Riviera last week killed four people, and a fifth person died in Corsica when he tried to put out a fire near his home.

On the Tuscan island of Elba and in Tuscany itself, scores of people were evacuated from homes and vacation spots as firefighters battled blazes with the aid of water-spraying planes and helicopters.

Italian news reports reported that authorities had questioned a 16-year-old boy suspected of possible arson in brush fire along part of Tuscany’s coast.

No injuries were reported in the estimated 16 fires raging in Italy, which broke out Tuesday night, said civil defense spokesman Luca Spoletini.

Greek firefighters, aided by aircraft, extinguished a forest fire despite strong gales Wednesday on Salamis, a tiny island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens. Fire chief Panayiotis Fourlas said he was certain the cause was arson.

Two deaths were linked to the heat in Britain and two more in Croatia, officials said.

Trying to escape the heat wave was getting harder.

In Lower Saxony, Germany, authorities were forced to forbid swimming in some of the lakes after high temperatures triggered a dangerous increase in algae counts.

A stretch of highway near the southwestern German city of Worms swelled as high as a yard in some places.

The stretch of Danube river passing through the Balkans dropped so low that wrecks of World War II boats became visible. Environmentalists warned that aquatic life could be destroyed in a few days because of a dramatic drop in oxygen levels.

The hot weather was also forcing a British Airways Concorde jet to make an unscheduled refueling stop in Gander, Canada, during a flight from London to New York because it uses more fuel during hot weather, officials said.

Rail service across Britain was also affected. For a third day, officials limited train speeds to 60 mph – down from 110 mph – because of the fears the tracks could buckle.

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute predicted it could reach 104 degrees Thursday – the highest temperature it has ever forecast since its founding in 1833 – and several rivers were declared off-limits to kayakers because of low water levels.

In Florence, where the temperature was hovering around 104, Yvonne Mitton, who was vacationing from Worthing, England, said she tried to avoid the hottest hours.

“We come out early in the morning, then we go back to the villa and then we come out again at night,” she said. “It is absolutely beautiful and we are not going to miss it. I don’t care how hot we get.”

Animals also were suffering. In Birmingham, England, the National Sea Life Centre sent a refrigerated van to an indoor ski center for a supply of snow to help its otters stay cool.

AP-ES-08-06-03 1838EDT

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