Wildfires rage across parched , three villages evacuated
LISBON (AFP) - Nearly 2,800 firefighters battled 31 blazes which raged out of control across drought-hit , forcing the evacuation of three central villages and the closure of several roads, emergency services said.
Strong, hot winds from were fanning the flames which came as temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in the interior of the country, which is facing its worst dry spell since the 1940s.
Firefighters were backed by 784 vehicles and 24 water-dropping aircraft in their fight against the flames, which raged in 11 of mainland 's 18 administrative districts, the civil protection agency said.
The hardest hit regions were in the forested interior of the country, one of Europe 's poorest regions.
Six fires were raging near the central city of Leiria, 130 kilometres (80 miles) northeast of Lisbon , leading firefighters to evacuate residents from three nearby villages because of the threat from the advancing flames.
Firefighters also removed residents from an old age home from a fourth nearby village.
"The situation is out of control, it is dramatic, it is worrying," the president of the nearby town of Pombal , Narciso Mota, told state television RTP.
Smoke from the wildfires could be seen over northern in satellite images of the country, the station said.
The blazes near Leiria forced the closure of a stretch of the nation's busiest highway, linking Lisbon to the second city Oporto in the north, because of the thick smoke and threat from the flames.
Wildfires had also forced the closure of roads near the northern cities of Braga and Gondomar as well as near the central town of Agueda , police said.
The Forest Fire Prevention Agency placed most of on maximum alert for wildfires because of the high temperatures, expected to last until at least Saturday.
Police in the northern city of Braga meanwhile said they had arrested a 40-year-old man who they believe set fire to a wooded area near his home in June.
The detention brings to 64 the number of people who police have arrested and charged for arson so far this year, more than double the number in 2004 at this time.
Wildfires have destroyed more than 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) of forest and brush since the beginning of the year, while six firefighters have died battling the flames.