French firefighters, hampered by strong winds, were battling to contain a fast-spreading wildfire in the hills behind the coastal town of Saint-Tropez today as campsites packed with holidaymakers were evacuated.

Planes carrying water and 900 firefighters were tackling the blaze, which began late yesterday at a motorway service area, according to local media.

Waves of extreme heat have hit much of the Mediterranean region in recent weeks, with wildfires from Spain and Greece to Turkey raising uncomfortable questions over global warming and countries' preparedness.

A burnt area as a wildfire rages near Gonfaron in France

The French fire, which hit several villages in the southern Var region, spread quickly overnight as high winds propelled the blaze across 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of land, burning through some 3,500 so far.

"We were completely surrounded by the flames," said Stephane Gady, mayor of the village of La Mole, which is nestled near pine forests close to the French Riviera.

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Mr Gady and his team were almost stranded after being caught by the blaze on the village outskirts last night, he said.

No lives were lost in the area, according to Mr Gady and local authorities in the Var, but around 100 homes were destroyed.

A campsite in Grimaud was razed to the ground. Charred mobile homes were scattered across the site. At least six other campsites in the Var region were evacuated, the Var prefect's office said.


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Evacuations have taken place around Saint-Tropez and nearby villages (file pic)

Another local mayor, Philippe Leonelli, said his seaside town of Cavalaire was spared, and was now sheltering some 2,000 people from nearby campsites in gyms and events halls.

"This time the fire spread in three hours through an area that would normally be covered in 48. It's crazy, that's how quickly it all went," Mr Leonelli said, adding several colleagues had lost their homes.

Cavalaire is normally home to some 10,000 people, but the population swells to 90,000 during the summer months. The villages of La Croix Valmer and Grimaud were also hit.

Alexandre Jouassard, an emergency services spokesman, said some locals were being told to stay indoors with wet sheets under the door instead of fleeing, to prevent chaos on the roads. Authorities warned that more fires could break out in surrounding areas.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would visit Gonfaron and that any reinforcements needed would be sent.

Authorities urged people not to drive around the area, known for its beaches and coastal towns. They were also advised to avoid the axis between Bormes-les-Mimosas, where President Emmanuel Macron is for his summer retreat, to Saint-Tropez.

Mr Macron left his summer retreat to thank the firefighters for their efforts.

"The worst has been avoided, we must remain humble in the face of these events (...) Climate disturbances will lead to more such fires," he said, adding that France had been less badly affected than some other countries in southern Europe.

Portugal wildfire 'under control' but still burning

More than 600 firefighters have managed to bring a blaze under control a day after it broke out in southern Portugal, forcing dozens of people to flee their homes.

The civil protection authority said the still active blaze in the tourist region of Algarve had been brought under control - although it has already torn through at least 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) of forests, orchards and brushland.

The fire started in the municipality of Castro Marim, in the hinterland near the Spanish border, regional civil protection force commander Richard Marques told journalists.

Strong winds pushed it swiftly towards the town of Tavira and Vila Real de Santo Antonio, forcing the evacuation of 81 people from local villages, said the emergency services.

One firefighter was sent to hospital after being burned and two others were treated after inhaling smoke, a spokesperson for civil protection told AFP.

Local media cited eyewitnesses as saying that several farm and residential buildings had been damaged by the fire, but the local authorities are yet to confirm those reports.

As the flames spread through pine forests towards the coast, authorities yesterday closed the motorway that crosses Algarve, although it was reopened today.

The 600 firefighters on the ground were supported by around 200 vehicles and eight aircraft.

Faced with a heatwave that has lasted since Friday, the government decided yesterday to extend the fire alert already in place by 48 hours.

Memories are still fresh of the horrific fires that killed dozens of people in Portugal in 2017.

In neighbouring Spain, a fire that broke out Saturday in Navalacruz, near the central city of Avila, was reported by authorities to be abating.

Around 1,000 people had to be evacuated from the area over the weekend as the wildfire blazed through around 12,000 hectares of forestry.

A heatwave has swept Spain since last Wednesday. Temperatures reached 47.4C on Saturday in Andalusia, in what the National Metereological Agency said was a record for Spain.