A view of a fire burning in Pinofranqueado, Spain May 18, 2023, in this screen grab taken from a handout video. Emergency Military Unit (Ume) Handout /Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. | EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT (UME) HANDOUT

Emergency crews evacuated around 600 villagers in western Spain over Thursday night as a wildfire blamed on arsonists ravaged up to 8,000 hectares (19,800 acres) near the border with Portugal, officials said.

Strong winds were making it harder to control the blaze in the areas of Las Hurdes and Sierra de Gata north of the city of Caceres, which have some of the densest forest in the region, emergency services said today.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had been planning to visit the Extremadura region ahead of local elections next week, had to cancel his trip, his press office said.

People from the villages of Cadalso, Descargamaría and Robledillo de Gata were moved to a sports centre in the nearby town of Moraleja or to the homes of friends and families, the Civil Guard said. Three roads in the area were closed, they added.

"The are very strong gusts of wind ... that make efforts to extinguish it difficult," Military Emergency Unit commander David Barona told state TV channel 24H.

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"The smoke plume is spreading at a low altitude making it difficult for air assets to access the area." Up to 260 firefighters and 165 soldiers are fighting the blaze, authorities said Officials said they believed the fire was started deliberately. "It's a very large attack on vegetation and the area," the head of Extremadura emergency services Nieves Villar told reporters, referring to the suspicions of arson.

An unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe coming after three years of below-average rainfall in Spain have raised the risk of wildfires.

Rainfall since October 2022 has been 28% below the average for period, according to state weather agency AEMET. A total of 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares in Spain last year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

The European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) warned of extreme danger of fires in other parts of Spain, especially around the city of Zaragoza in the northeastern region of Aragon.

In the meantime, Mallorca and all of the Balearics, are on high alert for forest fires.