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LISBON — Wildfires are raging in Portugal for the sixth day with an estimated 186 fires burning on the mainland.
Meanwhile more wildfires are burning in southern France, sparing the city of Marseille but causing significant damage to two other towns.
In Portugal, the out-of-control blazes have killed at least four people, burning down dozens of houses and sending people fleeing in panic, as well as charring huge areas of forest.
Forest fires are common in Portugal, and elsewhere in southern Europe, during August but a mixture of temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and strong winds since Saturday have caused damage on a scale not seen for years.
A wildfire that swept overnight into Funchal, the capital of Portugal’s Madeira Islands, killed three elderly people and left more than 300 people requiring medical treatment for smoke inhalation and minor burns, officials said.
Meanwhile, a forest watchman was killed on the mainland during the night when a blaze engulfed the caravan he was sleeping in 150 kilometres north of Lisbon.
Miguel Albuquerque, head of Madeira’s regional government, told reporters the three local victims died in their burned homes early Wednesday as the wildfire hit the coastal city in the dark. He said two other people were seriously hurt and one person is missing. At least 37 houses and a five-star hotel had burned down. Tourism is the mainstay of Madeira’s economy.
The Madeira fire forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents and tourists in the islands off northwestern Africa. Residents described chaotic nighttime scenes, with people fleeing the flames by car at high speed on the wrong side of the road.
The blaze broke out on Monday and firefighters said the island’s steep hills and dense woodland made it hard to reach the flames.
Albuquerque said officials suspect the fire was started deliberately and police have made two arrests.
Reinforcements, including firefighters and doctors, arrived Wednesday from the mainland and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores Islands.
The weather forecast is for cooler temperatures and calmer winds in Madeira, which authorities hope will help extinguish the wildfires.