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1,000 firefighters battle wildfires for fifth straight day

A firefighter works on an active fire on a hillside outside the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal's Algarve region, on Monday. Picture by Javier Fergo, Associated Press

More than a thousand firefighters supported by 19 aircraft have been battling a major wildfire in southern Portugal for a fifth straight day.

Authorities had hoped lower overnight temperatures would allow services to finally contain the blaze, which was 95 per cent under control on Monday.

But officials blamed its continuing spread on strong, gusting winds fuelling the flames, which are racing through dry and largely inaccessible woodland.

The fire came within 500 metres of the fire department in Monchique, a town of 2,000 people about 155 miles south of Lisbon, as officials evacuated scores of houses.

Emergency services say 29 people have been hurt in the wildfire.

An unknown number of homes - believed to number in the dozens, according to local reports - located in the forested hills have burned down.

The firefighting effort drew criticism, with some claiming poor organisation is thwarting the operation. Monchique was identified as a high risk area months ago.

Firefighting is co-ordinated by the Civil Protection Agency, a government body overseen by the Ministry for the Interior, which oversees national defence.

The National Association of Professional Firemen and the Professional Firemen's Trade Union issued a joint statement saying that the government's recent reorganisation of firefighting capabilities need to be reassessed and rethought. The organisations asked for a "very urgent" meeting with the minister of the interior.

Portugal beefed up its wildfire response over the winter after 109 people died last year in forest blazes amid a severe drought.

Vitor Vaz Pinto, the Civil Protection Agency's district commander, said the weather forecast around Monchique was "unfavourable", with a gusting wind from the north, known as a "nortada".

Temperatures were forecast to reach 35C (95F) – normal for August in southern Portugal.

The Iberian peninsula endured some record heat last weekend, with temperatures exceeding 45C (113F), which parched large areas.

Spanish emergency services are fighting a wildfire near Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, with almost two dozen aircraft.

The high temperatures moved northward to France. The hottest weather was expected in central and northeastern France, with temperatures that could reach 40C (104F).

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