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Wildfires displace 1,000s in southern France

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A helicopter carries a water tank in the struggle against a fire that spread near Vitrolles, in southern France, August 10, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Wildfires raging through southern France have forced the evacuation of 5,000 people from areas considered in danger.

According to French officials, multiple fires started around the afternoon on Wednesday in the town of Vitrolles, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Marseille, spreading over 2,260 hectares (5,600 acres) of scrubland in the area and destroying dozens of homes on its path.

“The situation is out of control. The fire is extremely powerful, fast, explosive, and continues burning everything in its path,” a statement from emergency services in Vitrolles read.

A fire is seen at Les Pennes-Mirabeau, near Marseille, southern France, August 11, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Two people were reported injured, one of them seriously, as the fire in Vitrolles moved toward Marseille, which is France’s second largest city.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 1,800 firefighters backed up by firefighting airplanes had been mobilized to tackle the blazes and around 400 police officers were helping to evacuate homes.

“The goal is to contain the fires to avoid them reaching towns, notably Marseille,” Cazeneuve said.

A French fireman stands on the road as smoke fills the sky and partially blocks the sun as fires burn north of Marseille, France, August 10, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Reports said four firefighters were hurt while battling the blaze in the area when their vehicle was surrounded by flames.

Fires, whipped up by strong winds, have disrupted road and air transport. Some flights were cancelled at Marseille.

The cause of the fire is unknown but authorities have attributed it to low rainfall last winter and the resultant dry summer season.

Police officers and firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire near houses on Madeira island, Portugal, August 10, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Elsewhere in Europe, three people lost their lives in raging forest fires on Portugal’s holiday island of Madeira on Wednesday when flames destroyed homes and a hotel.

The fire has forced around 1,000 people including residents and tourists to flee.

Since Friday, a spate of forest fires has also struck mainland Portugal as well as the north of the country, where temperatures have surged to 35 degrees Celsius.

The Portuguese Interior Ministry has requested help from the European Union (EU) with the firefighting operations.

More than 3,000 people have been deployed to contain the blaze.

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