MARSEILLE : Fires that raged through countryside near Marseille left a trail of destruction but were no longer threatening the southern French city on Thursday, firefighters said.

Around 500 people have been forced to flee their homes since Wednesday as flames fanned by strong winds consumed more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of mainly scrubland and forest and gutted several homes. French President Francois Hollande said authorities believe some of the fires were started deliberately and vowed that the perpetrators would be tracked down.

The Portuguese holiday island of Madeira was also counting the cost after three people were killed by fires.

Wildfires in Madeira’s picturesque capital Funchal, which had turned the sky orange and forced foreign holidaymakers to be evacuated, were brought under control overnight.

Firefighters battled blazes all night in areas north of Marseille, France’s second city, and air tankers swooped low to drop water on forest outbreaks.

In the Marseille suburb of Pennes-Mirabeau, one resident was too scared to return to her home after a harrowing night.

“It was terrible, there were flames in front of the house, at the side and behind,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only as Martine.

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

Transport by road and air was badly affected by the fire on Wednesday, with two motorways closed and some flights cancelled at Marseille airport.

Authorities said while Marseille was no longer in danger, they were taking no chances because strong winds could force the fires to spread again although they had remained relatively light on Thursday.

Fire service Lieutenant-Colonel Nicolas Faure said 1,200 firefighters were still working to dampen down smouldering areas of brush and trees, but said he believed the danger was subsiding.

“The situation is improving,” he said.

Police arrested a man Wednesday near the town of Vitrolles on suspicion of starting one of the fires deliberately.

Hollande, speaking in his home region of Correze in central France, said “those responsible will be found and punished”.

On the Atlantic island of Madeira, where three people died, smoke still lingered over the historic centre of the city of Funchal on Thursday, which had been shrouded in smoke and ash for three days.

A hotel overlooking Funchal was destroyed and more than 150 homes were left uninhabitable, officials said.

Civil protection official Rubina Leal said the mercury topped 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the hottest temperature there since 1976, while winds gusted to 90 kilometres (55 miles) per hour.

Around 1,000 people were initially evacuated, including many foreign tourists, and 400 people spent a second night Wednesday at an army barracks.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited the island on Thursday in a bid to reassure tourists that the fires were now under control.

“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,” Costa said.

A first-division football match between Madeira club CD Nacional and Chaves, scheduled for the start of the Portuguese season on Sunday, was postponed because of damage to the stadium in Funchal, the club said.

On the Portuguese mainland meanwhile, some 1,800 firefighters were battling a dozen major forest fires that have raged since last weekend in the north of the country.

Portugal’s EU partners have answered a call to assist and an Italian air tanker will join two Spanish water bombers already deployed, while Morocco has also offered to contribute two additional planes.