LISBON, July 17 — Authorities across southern Europe battled today to control wildfires burning across thousands of hectares of land in countries including Spain, Greece and France, where thousands of people have been evacuated in soaring temperatures.

In Spain, helicopters dropped water on the flames as searing heat and often mountainous terrain made the job harder for firefighters.

National weather agency AEMET issued high temperature warnings for today, with highs of 42 degrees Celsius forecast in Aragon, Navarra and La Rioja, in the north. It said the heatwave would end tomorrow, but warned temperatures would remain "abnormally high".

Spain has been experiencing a nearly week-long heatwave, with highs of 45.7C.

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In Malaga province, wildfires raged into the night, affecting local residents near Mijas, a town popular with northern European tourists.

British pensioners William and Ellen McCurdy had to make a quick escape from their home yesterday. They were taken to a local sports centre with other evacuated people.

"It was very fast .... I didn’t take it too seriously. I thought they had it under control and I was quite surprised when it seemed to be moving in our direction and then we were told to go. So we have left a lot of stuff behind," William, 68, told Reuters.

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"We just grabbed a few essentials and just ran and by that stage everybody along the street was on the move," Ellen said.

Mari Carmen Molina, a local councillor in Alhaurin, one of the evacuated towns, said she was worried residents’ homes could be destroyed.

"It’s terrible. It’s a very difficult situation", she said.

In Portugal, with temperatures dropping during the weekend, there were only two forest fires active today, both in the north, according to the authorities.

Portugal's Health Ministry said late yesterday that in the last seven days 659 people died due to the heatwave, most of them elderly. It said the weekly peak of 440 deaths was on Thursday, when temperatures exceeded 40C in several regions and 47C at a meteorological station in the district of Vizeu in the centre of the country.

In Greece, the fire brigade said yesterday 71 blazes broke out within 24 hours. Today, more than 150 firefighters were tackling a fire burning forest and farm land since Friday in Rethymno on the island of Crete. The flames were fuelled by strong winds. Local fire brigade officials said on Sunday it had been partially contained.

Authorities in southern France said on Sunday they were still battling wildfires that have forced thousands of people from their homes.

In Britain, the national weather forecaster has issued its first red "extreme heat" warning for parts of England tomorrow and Tuesday, predicting temperatures could reach 40C, topping the previous record of 38.7C in 2019. — Reuters