Raging forest fires threaten Marseilles


The fire has already destroyed 7 percent of the island of La Palma.

Smoke rises from the ground in a burnt pine forest near Mealhada, northern Portugal, Thursday, Aug. 11 2016.

Portugal urged its European partners Wednesday to help in battling multiple blazes on the island known as the "Pearl of the Atlantic". Major fires have also been raging in northwestern Spain and southern France.

Hundreds of children and adults were evacuated Wednesday from recreation centers and homes in the town of Vitrolles, north of Marseille.

France sent 1,500 firefighters to tackle a number of fierce blazes that gutted buildings and forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes.

In Portugal, the out-of-control blazes have killed at least four people, burning down dozens of houses and sending people fleeing in panic, as well as charring huge areas of forest. High winds blew flames through the dense brush of the southern backcountry, dry from a summer season with little rain.

The origins of the French fires, which started in Rognac, north of Vitrolles, remain unknown.

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One person is still missing and police have arrested one man on suspicious of starting the fires.

His government released a statement Thursday assuring visitors that tourism facilities on the island - a popular vacation destination - were returning to normal, despite the fires still burning. More than 3,000 hectares of vegetation were destroyed in the Marseille area, the Herault and the Pyrenees-Orientales regions.

Residents of the region north of Marseille, especially Vitrolles and nearby Pennes-Mirabeau, woke up to take an accounting of the scorched and still-smoking landscape and their losses. More than 1,000 had spent the night in gymnasiums.

"It is time for us to move to the next stage - rebuild, get back to normal and re-establish confidence across the world in Madeira as a great tourist destination", he said.

At the French port of Fos-sur-Mer northwest of Marseille, 800 hectares went up in flames on Wednesday, prompting fears for the safety of oil and chemical terminals.

Most commercial flights leaving Marseille were delayed or cancelled, according to the local airport's website.