Bush fires raged across swathes of southern Europe Friday, with a prolonged spell of hot weather turning woodland around the Mediterranean coastline tinder dry. Hundreds of fires in Spain, France, Italy and Greece have killed at least seven people this week, destroying thousands of hectares of forest and gutting dozens of homes.

Spain has been the worst hit and authorities said Friday thousands of villagers have had to be evacuated to escape wildfires that have killed five firefighters. Thousands of police and soldiers had been drafted in to help combat seven serious fires in the south and east of Spain.

However, one of the most damaging blazes that raged for more than 36 hours in Mojacar, in the southern Andalusia region, has been stabilised, authorities said.

On the French island of Corsica, some 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of scrub and bush has burnt in 12 separate blazes over the past 24 hours, with temperatures of above 40 Celsius (104.00F) and strong winds fanning the flames.

Police said arsonists might be behind eight of the fires.

The village of Aullene in the south of the island was especially hard hit, with around a dozen houses and part of an ancient forest devoured by the flames. The town mayor said emergency services had been slow to come to their rescue.

"Efforts are always centred on the tourist sites and we are forgotten," said mayor Pierre Castellani.

On the Italian island of Sardinia, just to the south of Corsica, two people were killed by flash fires Thursday and the blazes continued Friday in seven different places. Forest fires also raged on the southern Italian island of Sicily and in the mainland region of the Marche.

"We still have nine active fires but there is no danger to the population as the winds are weaker than yesterday," said Luigi D'Angelo from the emergency office of Civil Protection.

In Greece, more than 320 wildfires have scorched large swathes of forest land across the country this week, but have so far missed homes and buildings. In 2007, the worst forest fires in memory raged for 10 days, sweeping through dozens of villages and killing 65 people.

A European Union monitoring agency warned there was a high risk of fire along most of the Mediterranean and with extremely high temperatures forecast for much the region in the coming days, authorities said they remained on high alert.