Thousands of firefighters deployed as wildfires rage in France, Portugal, Spain

A man fights a wildfire with a garden hose in the Pontevedra region of northwestern Spain Thursday.

Story highlights

  • Huge blaze was halted on outskirts of Marseille, France's second largest city
  • Fires in France, Portugal and Spain have broken out amid high temperatures, strong winds

(CNN)Hot, dry summer weather and treacherous winds have combined to make life difficult for firefighters battling huge blazes in France, Spain and Portugal.

Thousands of emergency response workers have been deployed to combat wildfires raging across southern Europe, destroying homes and prompting the evacuation of thousands.
    Fanned by gusty winds over 30 kilometers per hour, the fires are expected to continue to pose a threat, with CNN weather forecasters predicting hotter than average temperatures to continue across the region and little to no chance of rain.


    In southern France, about 2,500 firefighters have been mobilized to battle a huge blaze that has threatened the southern port city of Marseille since taking hold Wednesday afternoon, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday.
    A razed neighborhood in Vitrolles, north of Marseille.
    More than 3,300 hectares of scrubland have been ravaged by the fire, which injured three people, one of them seriously, according to a statement by the Bouches-du-Rhône prefecture.
    The fire was halted on the outskirts of Marseille, France's second largest city, on Wednesday night, the statement said, while a second fire destroyed hundreds of hectares in the city's port area.
    The blaze has been fanned by the strong northwesterly wind known as the mistral -- and the fierce, unpredictable gusts have emergency services on high alert and wary of a flare-up, the statement said.
    Marseille deputy mayor Julien Ruas told CNN Thursday that the fire had been contained in Bouches-du-Rhône, but firefighters would work through the night in case the blaze was reignited by the wind.
    He said he had been watching firefighters battle the blazes at about 2 a.m. Thursday and strong winds were fanning flames up to 10 meters high.
    The firefighters were standing on top of the houses as they worked, he said.
    "It was very impressive. They seemed tiny compared to the flames, but they were fighting like the houses were theirs."
    It was not possible to save every home though when faced with such huge flames, Ruas said.
    "I was on the ground this morning and it was a lunar landscape," he said.
    The fire destroyed many homes and other buildings in Vitrolles, a town about 25km (15 miles) north of Marseille which was the worst affected area. Hundreds there were forced to evacuate their homes and seek shelter.
    Four firefighters were injured, some of them seriously, while battling a blaze in Herault, west of Marseille. French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to the injured emergency workers Thursday.
    A man walks among the ruins of an elementary school burnt down in Vitrolles, France.


    In Portugal, emergency services are fighting 12 major blazes across the country, with more than 1,700 firefighters, 558 fire trucks and 6 aircraft involved in battling the fires, the Portuguese National Civil Protection Authority said.
    Emergency services have been stretched by the fires raging amid fierce summer heat, with firefighters from the capital Lisbon having earlier been drafted in to fight deadly fires on the island of Madeira, some 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) southwest of the Portuguese mainland.
    Three people perished in the Madeira blazes, which threatened the island's capital Funchal, and more than 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
    Firefighters fight a blaze at Calheta on Madeira island Thursday.
    Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited the island Thursday, surveying the damage from the fires and tweeting: "Now we must move on to the next phase: restoring confidence and rebuilding what there is to rebuild."
    His government released a statement Thursday assuring visitors that tourism facilities on the island -- a popular vacation destination -- were returning to normal, despite the fires still burning.


    In Spain, nearly 1,800 hectares have been burned in the northwestern region of Galicia. Five large fires are raging amid hot, dry summer weather in the municipalities of Santiago, Porto do Son, Cee, Avion and Soutomaior-Arcade, the Galician Regional Government said in a statement.
    CNN's weather team says that while winds across affected areas are forecast to drop in coming days, high pressure will allow temperatures to climb even more while eliminating any chance of rain.
    Residents work to fight a wildfire in As Neves in northwestern Spain on Thursday.