Wildfires force 4700 evacuations on La Gomera and Tenerife
Wildfires raging on the Spanish Canary Islands of La Gomera and Tenerife have forced the evacuation of more than 4700 people in two days, officials say.
Firefighters battling the blazes on the islands off Morocco were up against “high temperatures, low humidity and wind” that fanned the flames, said the regional economy minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz.
A pitiless heat wave originating from North Africa that follows Spain’s driest winter in seven decades has shown no sign of letting up, and fires were also raging in the Galicia region.
On La Gomera, the most devastating fires in a decade have ravaged some 3000 hectares of land, including about a tenth of the Garajonay nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
About 2500 people from 13 villages in the island’s west and southwest were evacuated as a precaution, the regional government said in a statement on Saturday.
On the other Canaries island of Tenerife, more than 2200 people were moved from their homes.
“The fires are still burning on three fronts,” an emergency services spokesman said earlier. “There is no positive change for the moment.”
Water-dropping aircraft again flew missions on Saturday as blazes erupted anew in the Garajonay reserve, home to rare subtropical forests which boasts 450 plant species, including eight found only in the park.
Ventura del Carmen Rodriguez, the island’s environment secretary, said last week it would take 30-40 years for Garajonay’s burned areas to recover.
Three more villages were evacuated after 300 people fled their homes to safety on Friday, as roads leading to the affected areas were cut off.
Restaurateur Victor Manuel Garcia, 40, said he was among a handful of residents in his village, Chipude, to stay put. “There’s not as much black smoke,” he said. “It’s hot but there is less wind.”
Chipude was evacuated for the first time last week and again on Friday, but Garcia said “someone had to stay in case of an emergency.”
Meanwhile, on the Spanish mainland, two villages in Ourense province were evacuated on Friday as flames devoured another 800 hectares of vegetation, the regional government said.
Fires also raged in the Catalonia and Andalusia regions.
A wave of hot weather from Africa last week pushed temperatures past 40C, boosting the risk of more fires.
Between January 1 and July 29, wildfires destroyed 130,830 hectares of vegetation in Spain, according to the agriculture ministry.