Much of southern Europe is sweltering in near record-breaking temperatures with the mercury expected to exceed 45C (113F).

A scorching 46C was forecast for Setúbal, near Lisbon, on Saturday, as emergency services in Portugal issued a red alert until Sunday and urged people to avoid picnics and outdoor activities.

The Met Office said temperatures had risen to 45.5C in Alvega in central Portugal on Saturday afternoon and were still rising.

On Friday, 16 weather stations in Portugal registered record temperatures with Alcácer do Sal, near Setúbal, climbing to 45.9C

The hot, dry conditions have led to several wildfires in Portugal. Nearly 700 firefighters are battling the biggest outbreak, near Monchique in the Algarve region.

Portugal’s highest recorded temperature was 47.4C, in 2003.

In Spain, a high of 45C was forecast for Córdoba and heat warnings have been issued for 41 of the country’s 50 provinces.

High temperatures contributed to the deaths of two men in Spain on Friday – one in Barcelona and the other in the Murcia region, authorities said.

Spain’s record high temperature of 47.3C was set in Cordoba in July 2017.

The Met Office did not, however, expect the record European temperature of 48C, set in Athens in 1977, would be broken this weekend.

UK temperatures are expected to peak at 31C (88F) on England’s south coast this weekend, the Met Office predicted.

Gosport in Hampshire was the hottest place in the UK by mid-afternoon, reaching 29.8C.

Areas along the Hampshire and Dorset coast are most likely to feel the heat on Saturday, while the hottest areas on Sunday are expected to be around London and stretching north to the Midlands.

Cloudy conditions are expected in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with some patchy rain to the north and west of Scotland.

The north-west/south-east split will continue early next week, with further showers expected across Scotland and Northern Ireland, while England and Wales stay generally dry and warmer.

Temperatures as high as 32C (90F) are possible around London on Monday and Tuesday.