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Heat wave sparks wildfires in Spain, Portugal, as temperatures exceed 110

by Reuters news services |

Nearly 20 blazes raged across Portugal and several burned in western Spain on Wednesday, menacing villages and disrupting tourists' holidays amid a heatwave that meteorologists expect to push temperatures well past 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

In France, about 800 firefighters, supported by six water-bomber aircraft, were battling two wildfires in the southwest, which have already prompted the evacuation of thousands of campers, Gironde prefect Fabienne Buccio said.

Some villagers rescued pets while others helped firefighters battle the flames.

In Leiria, where temperatures soared to 113 degrees and more than 7,400 acres have been burned so far, authorities blocked major motorways and side streets as strong winds made it harder for firefighters to fight the flames.

Nearly 750 firefighters were combating two active blazes in Leiria alone, while in the whole of mainland Portugal there were 2,751 firefighters on the ground, backed by 23 aircraft.

In Portugal’s southern Algarve region, popular with tourists, a fire broke out in the city of Faro and spread to the Quinta do Lago luxury resort. Videos shared online showed flames edging close to villas, burning palm trees and parts of golf courses.

Nearly all of drought-hit Portugal was on red alert for extreme heat conditions, with the highest temperatures of 113 in the central Santarem and Leiria districts, the IPMA weather institute said. The country’s record temperature of 117 was registered in 2003.

>> Campsites evacuated

More than 6,600 acres have been burnt so far in France's Gironde region, prefect Buccio told BFM-TV. The biggest of the two fires is around the town of Landiras, south of Bordeaux, where roads have been closed and 500 residents evacuated.

The other one is along the Atlantic Coast, close to the iconic “Dune du Pilat” – the tallest sand dune in Europe – located in the Arcachon Bay area, above which heavy clouds of dark smoke were seen rising in the sky.

That fire led to the preventive evacuation of 6,000 people from five surrounding campsites. They were taken for shelter to a local exhibition centre.

"Other campers woke us up at around 4:30 in the morning. We had to leave immediately and quickly choose what to take with us," Christelle, one of the evacuated tourists, told BFM TV.

On the eve of Bastille Day, the Gironde prefecture has forbidden all fireworks until Monday in towns and villages in proximity to forests.

The World Meteorological Organisation warned Tuesday the heatwave was spreading and intensifying in large parts of Europe.

With human-caused climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase 30 percent within the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 U.N. report.

Searing temperatures also swept across China's vast Yangtze River basin on Wednesday; firefighters tackled a forest fire near the tourist town of Datca in Turkey; and power demand in Texas hit an all-time high as consumers cranked up their air conditioners to escape the heat.

In Spain's western region of Extremadura bordering Portugal firefighters evacuated a few hundred villagers overnight as a precaution and continued to battle a blaze that swept into Salamanca province in the region of Castile and Leon Tuesday.