Britons were among thousands caught up in the worst fires in the Marseille area of southern France in 20 years, as blazes continued to rage in Portugal and Spain on Thursday.
The fires are the latest blow to the tourist industry in France which has been blighted by a terror attack in Nice, football hooliganism at Euro 2016 in Marseille and a string of crippling strikes in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Portuguese Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo offered financial support to his native Madeira following devastating wildfires which killed three people and led to mass evacuations.
Ronaldo made the offer, reportedly a donation of $100,000 (£77,000), during a phone call to island president Miguel Albuquerque.
Wildfires swept to the gates of Marseille in southern France on Wednesday night, scorching more than 8,000 acres of land, burning down at least 25 homes and injuring three, one seriously.
In dramatic scenes, some 1,800 firemen tackled “out of control” blazes in countryside north of the French port city that have forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes.
Britons were caught up in the chaos as road and air transport were badly affected by the fire, two motorways closed and some flights cancelled at Marseille airport.
Liam Hesketh, a Briton on holiday in the Marseille area, tweeted a dramatic photograph of a forest fire close to his vehicle, saying: “Was not expecting to see this out of a car window today.”
His Easyjet flight was cancelled, forcing him to take the Eurostar train back to the UK on Thursday.
Another holidaymaker, Siân Dicker, a classical soprano and postgraduate student at the London Guildhall, filmed palls of smoke on the way to the airport, writing:“Drove past a huge forest fire on the way to Marseille airport, fingers crossed for a safe flight home!”
Whipped up by the Mistral wind, the blazes took hold mid-afternoon on Wednesday and spread scrubland, grass and some wooded areas.
“We haven’t seen a situation like this for a very long time,” the fire service said, adding that it was the worst in two decades in the area.
At one point on Wednesday, emergency services in Vitrolles described the situation as “out of control”. Homes were destroyed in the town with more than 1,000 people forced to seek shelter in local sports centres. Nearby Pennes-Mirabeau saw a school partially burned down.
A man was being detained on suspicion of arson linked to the fire that ravaged land north of Marseille.
Further west in Herault, four firemen were injured fighting another blaze when their vehicle was surrounded by the flames.
The blaze, which comes after low rainfall in winter and spring left southeast France extremely dry, sent smoke over the port city of Marseille.
The Provence region of France has suffered a string of serious fires in recent years due to dry conditions, with thousands of holidaymakers, including Britons, evacuated from campsites last year during one fierce blaze.
Meanwhile, firemen on the Portuguese island of Madeira continued on Thursday to battle wildfires that have reached Funchal, the island’s largest city, killing three people and destroying over 150 homes, while the national government sought help to deal with nearly 200 blazes on the mainland.
British holidaymaker, Sophie Sulehria, said she realised something was wrong as soon as she landed.
“The feeling amongst the people on the streets was just panic. People were being sick, so many were having to cover their mouths because of smoke inhalation,” she said.
“People now seem a little more settled, but ash is still falling into the city, smoke is still hanging in the air.”
Portugal has activated a European Union plan to receive emergency assistance. Italy has already sent one firefighting aircraft.
The police arrested two people as part of an investigation into whether the Madeira fires were started deliberately.
On Wednesday there were 186 fires burning in mainland Portugal, mostly in the northern part of the country, and on Thursday there were still a dozen major fires that were out of control battled by more than 4,000 firemen.
Meanwhile in Spain, five major fires were raging in the northwestern region of Galicia, with 10 others under control.
Original source: The Telegraph