At least 4,000 people have been evacuated as a wildfire rages “out of control” on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma while Europe struggles to cope with a heatwave, according to authorities.
The fire in La Palma started in the early hours of Saturday in El Pinar, a wooded area in the northern part of the island. The blaze forced the evacuation of people from the villages of Puntagorda and neighbouring Tijarafe.
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Ten aerial units and 300 firefighters on the ground sought to bring the wildfire under control on the island, which forms part of a Spanish archipelago off the coast of western Africa.
At least 13 houses were destroyed as the fire advanced, and it has now affected more than 4,650 hectares (11,490 acres) of land, local authorities said on Sunday.
“The fire has spread very fast,” said Fernando Clavijo, president of the Canary Islands. “The fire is out of control.”
He urged residents to be responsible and heed the calls for evacuation as many did not want to abandon their homes.
Clavijo also voiced his concern about the possibility of shifting winds at night, saying they could make the evacuation operation more dangerous. He said that 10 aircraft were battling the fire and that water-dropping planes were expected to arrive.
Puntagorda’s mayor, Vicente Rodriguez, told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE that the fire started within the limits of his municipality. He added that the area has seen below-average rainfall in recent years, just like large parts of the drought-stricken mainland, because of changing weather patterns impacted by climate change.
In Tenerife, another of the eight Canary Islands, a forest fire that also broke out on Saturday forced the evacuation of 50 people and destroyed about 60 hectares (148 acres), authorities said.
According to the Spanish royal household, King Felipe VI of Spain telephoned Clavijo on Saturday to express his support for the people of La Palma.
The forest fire is the first natural crisis on the island since a volcanic eruption in September 2021 that destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and many thousands of people were forced to leave their homes when lava began pouring out of the Cumbre Vieja volcano. The fire comes amid a blistering heatwave in southern Europe.
Spain saw record high temperatures in 2022 and this spring as it endures a prolonged drought. Authorities and forestry experts are concerned that conditions are ripe for a difficult wildfire season.