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Canary Islands fire forces mass evacuation
Some 4,700 people evacuated over two days, in fires that follow Spain's driest winter in seven decades.
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2012 22:53
The fires on La Gomera and Tenerife have forced the evacuation of more than 4,700 people in two days [EPA]

Wildfires raging on the Spanish Canary Islands of La Gomera and Tenerife have forced the evacuation of more than 4,700 people in two days, the regional government said.

Firefighters battling the blazes on the islands off Morocco were up against "high temperatures, low humidity and wind" that fanned the flames, said regional economy minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz on Saturday.

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 mainland Galicia region.

On La Gomera, the most devastating fires in a decade have ravaged some 3,000 hectares of land, including about one-tenth of the Garajonay nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

About 2,500 people from 13 villages in the island's west and southwest were evacuated as a precaution, the regional government said in a statement.

On the other Canaries island of Tenerife, more than 2,200 people were moved from their homes.

"The fires are still burning on three fronts," an emergency services spokesperson said earlier. "There is no positive change for the moment."

Water-dropping aircraft again flew missions 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 told AFP by telephone. "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".

He had expected his 40-seat restaurant to fill up with tourists attending a village fete from Sunday, but that event had to be cancelled.

Meanwhile on the Spanish mainland, in Galicia, two villages in Ourense province were evacuated 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 40 degrees Centigrade 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.

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