Britain is braced for an outbreak of wildfires as the country continues to swelter in its longest heatwave for seven years.
Researchers have estimated that the hot weather may have caused up to 760 premature deaths after six consecutive days of plus-30C temperatures. And with rainfall at only around 15% of average monthly totals so far, the Met Office has warned that there is an "elevated risk" of fires in the countryside.
A spokesman said: "I can confirm that the advice given to our governmental partners is that there is an elevated risk of fires in the next couple of days."
Karl Kitchen, the Met Office scientist with responsibility for wildfires, told The Independent that soon-to-be harvested crops such as wheat and winter barley are looking particularly vulnerable to fire.
Firefighters in London have already warned of the dangers posed by grass fires. On Thursday a blaze burned through grass and gorse the equivalent of four football pitches in Mitcham, south London, before it was brought under control. London Fire Brigade (LFB) says it has dealt with twice as many grass fires in this summer's heatwave compared with last year.
On Wednesday the country experienced the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury hitting 32.2C (90F). On Thursday it hit highs of 30.5C in Bournemouth in Dorset and Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire.
South-west England and the West Midlands were elevated from level two to level three heatwave health warnings by the Met Office, putting them on a par with the South East and London. The East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the East remain at level two. The North East and North West remain at level one.
Health officials have advised people to stay cool, drink lots of cold fluids and keep an eye on those they know to be at risk.
Dr Angie Bone, heatwave plan leader for PHE, said: "In this continued hot weather, it's important to remember that high temperatures can be dangerous, especially for people who may be vulnerable such as older people, young children and those with serious illnesses. During very hot weather, pregnant women and people who have chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular, respiratory, renal conditions, diabetes or Parkinson's disease, may experience discomfort if indoor temperatures are particularly hot and in using public transport."
Gemma Plumb, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said there was no sign of temperatures dropping significantly in the coming days. "(On Friday) the West Midlands, central southern England and the West Country could see maximums of 28-30C," she said. "On Saturday and Sunday it looks like we will have temperatures of around 28C but by Monday we have temperatures of 29C and 30C again, with an increased risk of getting some showers. There is a likelihood of thunderstorms from Sunday and into Monday, initially in the west of England and South Wales and then heading into the south of England, but these would not necessarily bring temperatures down."