Wild fires have hit Spain. | PAULO NOVAIS


Several large wildfires raged in central Portugal and western Spain menacing villages amid a heatwave that meteorologists expect to push the temperatures to near or above record highs later today, likely stoking more blazes.

Nearly all of mainland Portugal was on red alert for extreme heat conditions, with the temperature in the central Santarem district northeast of Lisbon expected to hit 46 degrees Celsius (114.8°F), the IPMA weather institute said.

The country's record temperature of 47.3 C was registered in 2003. The World Meteorological Organisation warned on Tuesday the heatwave was spreading and intensifying in large parts of Europe.

With human-caused climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase 30% within the next 28 years, according to a February 2022 U.N. report.

In Lisbon, thermometers were expected to register 43 C, close to the city's 2018 record of 44C. More than 1,400 firefighters backed by 23 aircraft were battling a dozen forest blazes across the drought-hit country with the two largest ones in central Portugal raging since at least Tuesday.

In Spain's western region of Extremadura bordering Portugal firefighters evacuated a few hundred villagers overnight as a precaution and continued to battle a complicated blaze that on Tuesday swept into neighbouring Salamanca province in the region of Castile and Leon.

Parts of Extremadura, Andalusia and Galicia regions were on red alert for extreme heat, Spain's AEMET meteorology service said, adding that temperatures could surpass the previous record of 47.4 C for all of Spain set in August 2021, and of 40.7 C in the capital Madrid.

As Madrid residents and tourists gulped down water and ice-cream and hid in the shade whenever possible, zoo keepers at the Madrid Zoo fed animals frozen popsicles made from fruit, beef and fish.

And the heatwave is set to continue in Mallorca with the peak now expected on Sunday with temperatures well over 40ºC in central parts of the island.