Giles Tremlett in Madrid for The Guardian reports:

Forest fires raged across south-west Europe yesterday as a heatwave hit an area already parched by a severe drought that has dried up rivers and led to water restrictions in many places.

The emergency services were tackling dozens of blazes across Portugal, Spain and southern France as temperatures headed towards 45C.

The drought is the worst on record in Spain and Portugal. The Algarve region of southern Portugal has warned of water cuts.

Up to 2,900 Portuguese firefighters and 900 vehicles were involved in the firefighting operation, but water-dropping aircraft stayed on the ground as pilots complained they were unable to see through massive smoke clouds, Portugal’s Civil Protection Service said.

“We are facing great difficulties and they’ll probably continue for another few days,” said the internal administration minister, Antonio Costa. “It’s very important for everyone to do what they can to prevent fires breaking out, watch for outbreaks and help fight them.”

Police closed Portugal’s main north-south highway for the second time in 24 hours yesterday due to thick smoke from the blazes.

Many fire crews got little rest during the night as they evacuated remote villages.

Spanish firefighters were also battling half a dozen blazes, including those on the island of Ibiza, the northern regions of Navarra and Leon and the central province of Toledo.

Two weeks ago 11 firefighters were killed by a wildfire that suddenly changed direction in Guadalajara province, central Spain.

Temperatures were expected to reach 44C in parts of south-west Spain over the weekend.

In France 1,500 people were evacuated after a wildfire tore through woodland in the south-east.

The largest French blaze, in the Var region, was given extra force when flames hit a hidden cache of second world war gunpowder, causing several explosions.

Two pilots of a water-carrying firefighting plane that crashed battling a blaze in Corsica were buried yesterday.

“It is an exceptional drought,” Frederic Nathan, a forecaster for weather service Meteo France, told Associated Press.

“We are going to have to wait until autumn for the situation to return to normal.”

Two-thirds of France’s 96 departments have imposed water restrictions.