Fires rage in Spain’s Canary Islands
SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Spain ” At least 14,000 people have evacuated homes, hotels and campgrounds on the Canary Islands as firefighters struggled Tuesday to extinguish fires on two of the archipelago’s popular tourist spots.
About 8,800 people were displaced on Tenerife island, where fires have burned 37,500 acres of mainly forest and destroyed 900 homes since Friday, the Canary Islands regional government said. On Gran Canaria island, some 25,000 acres of woodland were charred, and 5,200 people evacuated as at least 60 homes were engulfed by flames.
No one has been reported injured. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will make an emergency visit to the area on Wednesday, his office said.
Winds of 40 mph and temperatures up to 104 degrees were spreading the flames across the treetops. Tenerife authorities were fighting fires on four fronts, only one of which was under control. Many roads were closed.
On Gran Canaria, fires have burned 65 percent of the Palmitos bird sanctuary park, and authorities feared that toucans and other exotic birds may have been killed, the national news agency Efe reported. Army troops, along with eight firefighting aircraft, were trying to smother the blaze.
Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said the situation was one of “maximum alarm” and added the central government would send aircraft and crews to aid in extinguishing the flames.
The fires are burning inland areas rather than the coastal resorts popular with Europeans seeking sun and sand.
The president of the regional government, Paulino Rivero, said the islands’ rugged, mountainous terrain makes it hard for firefighters to work, leaving water-dumping aircraft as essentially their only effective weapon.
Smaller fires are also burning on the islands of La Gomera and La Palma.
On Saturday, police said they arrested a 37-year-old forest ranger who admitted starting the Gran Canaria fire, saying his job contract was about to expire.
There are seven islands in the Canary Island archipelago, located off Africa’s northwest coast.