Nearly 3,000 firefighters battled 80 wildfires that raged across Portugal on Thursday, civil protection officials said, as the return of scorching heat put an end to the respite from a spate of blazes.

Weather will be “especially favourable for wildfires” until Sunday, with strong winds and temperatures up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) forecast, Portuguese civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar told a news conference.

Some 650 firefighters backed by nine water-dropping aircraft and over 200 vehicles were at the scene of the biggest blaze which raged in a forest near the central town of Abrantes.

Firefighters evacuated two villages near the town, Pucarica and Braca, as a precaution because of the threat from the flames, Abrantes mayor Maria do Ceu Albuquerque told news radio TSF.

“The battle against the fire is very difficult, there are two active fronts that are burning with great intensity. Temperatures are very high, the situation is far from being brought under control,” she said.

Firefighters said low air humidity levels and strong winds which frequently changed direction were complicating the battle against the blaze.

Local residents used plastic buckets full of water and garden hosepipes to help firefighters put out the flames, images broadcast on Portuguese television showed.

Another wildfire raging near the northern village of Mealhada forced the closure of a 30-kilometre (18-mile) stretch of the A1 highway linking Lisbon and Porto, Portugal’s two largest cities.

After an uncommonly dry winter and spring, almost 79 per cent of the Portuguese mainland was enduring extreme or severe drought at the end of July, according to the national weather office.

In June over 60 people were killed, and more than 250 were injured, in a giant wildfire at Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal that raged for five days.

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