Wildfires scorch Spain and Canary Islands
Two firefighters killed in southeastern Alicante province and thousands evacuated on Spain's Atlantic archipelago.
Last Modified: 13 Aug 2012 19:49

Wildfires have killed two people in southeastern Spain and forced thousands to evacuate in the Canary Islands where flames ravaged a rare nature reserve, authorities have said.

Two firefighters died from injuries sustained in battling a fire in the province of Alicante, an emergency services official said on Monday.

One firefighter died on Monday in an Alicante city hospital while another died there on Sunday, the official said. Two other firefighters remained in hospital.

Firefighters battled through the night to quell the flames in the pine forest of Torre de les Macanes north of Alicante. The fire remained active after breaking out on Sunday, a regional government spokeswoman said.

"The fire has been stabilised" after covering about 600 hectares, a national government spokeswoman in the region said.

The Alicante blaze was one of half a dozen raging throughout Spain on Monday.

World Heritage Site

Far away on the Atlantic archipelago of the Canary Islands, a popular tourist destination, aircraft were dousing flames engulfing a ravine on the western side of the island of La Gomera.

That fire first broke out more than a week ago.

Fanned by warm winds on Monday, it raced through the tinder-dry cane and pasture in the ravine, forcing nearly 1,000 tourists and residents to evacuate from the western island town of Valle Gran Rey, as authorities feared fires in surrounding hills could engulf the town.

A further 3,000 people, including many visitors, were gathered in the western port of Puerto de Vueltas on La Gomera, waiting to see how the fire developed, said Candelaria Ceballos, spokeswoman for the Canary Island regional government.

Those who chose to leave had to be ferried off by boat because the road was cut off, the government said. A ship took 629 people to the eastern side of the island on Sunday night and another 281 early on Monday.

Ceballos said some 3,100 hectares, including some 800 hectares in the Garajonay National Park, had been destroyed since the fire began on August 4.

The park contains woodlands that have survived since the Tertiary age, 11 million years ago, and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UN cultural agency in 1986.

The blaze was thought to have been brought under control last week but it rekindled on Friday.

Distant aid

Some 5,000 people were evacuated from other towns on La Gomera and neighbouring popular tourist island of Tenerife because of fires over the weekend but were later able to return to their homes.

"The fire in Tenerife is now quite stabilised. In the Valle Gran Rey ravine there is still an inhabited area that needs to be protected," the regional security minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz told a news conference.

Spain is at particularly high risk of fires this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years. The heat topped 40 degrees Celsius in recent days, but eased around most of the country on Sunday.

The Spanish government said 132,300 hectares of land had been burnt this year up to August 5, and several blazes have broken out across the country in recent days.

The Canary Island regional government has called on Spain to boost the islands' firefighting capacity.

With the island 1,380km from Spain's southwestern tip, it can take more than a day for planes to be deployed from the mainland.


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