LEIRIA: Over 20 wildfires 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 into the high 40s Celsius.
In France too, 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.
In Portugal's southern Algarve region, popular with tourists, authorities blocked access to the Quinta do Lago luxury resort and golf course as thick plumes of smoke rose from an area next to it.
"A fire is entering an urban area, with a lot of dry vegetation that, with small sparks, quickly becomes a secondary fire. We are concerned and that is what we are telling to people," said Richard Marques, a civil protection worker in the area.
In the central district of Leiria north of Lisbon, where temperatures soared to 45 degrees Celsius (113°F), authorities blocked a major motorway. Flames and thick smoke could be seen on both sides of the road, while helicopters and aircraft dropped water. Villagers who have not been evacuated poured water on roofs of their homes.
Nearly 800 firefighters were combating two active blazes in the area, while in the whole of mainland Portugal 2,124 firefighters, backed by 28 aircraft, were fighting 24 forest blazes.
Nearly all of mainland Portugal was on red alert for extreme heat conditions, with the highest temperatures of 45 C in the central Santarem and Leiria districts, the IPMA weather institute said. The country's record temperature of 47.3 C was registered in 2003.
More than 2,700 hectares 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 close proximity to forests.
The World Meteorological Organisation warned on 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% 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 on Tuesday swept into Salamanca province in the region of Castile and Leon.
Parts of Extremadura, Andalusia and Galicia regions were on red alert for extreme heat, Spain's AEMET meteorology service said, adding that temperatures could surpass the previous record of 47.4 C for all of Spain set in August 2021, and of 40.7 C in the capital Madrid.