Wildfires displace thousands on Spanish islands
Spain is at a high risk for fires this summer after its driest winter in 70 years and temperatures hitting 104 degrees.
Mon, Aug 13, 2012 at 03:43 PM
A Madrid Volunteer firefighter works during a forest fire near Guadalajara on Aug. 11. (Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP/GettyImages)
LA GOMERA, Spain — Wildfires drove thousands of people from their homes near a rare nature reserve in Spain's Canary Islands on Monday, Aug. 13, after a separate mainland blaze killed two, authorities said.
Firefighters struggled to control the flames that engulfed the wooded hillsides on the island of La Gomera, reducing lush green trees to black dust, spewing grey smoke and displacing residents and tourists.
That fire started more than a week ago and has devastated more than 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of land, including hundreds of hectares in the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to rare subtropical plants.
Water-bombing aircraft were dousing the flames, which crackled rapidly through ravines in the west of La Gomera.
"It is very difficult because of the high temperatures, the wind, the low humidity and the lack of aircraft," a spokeswoman for the island council, Karen Bencomo, told AFP.
"We have three water-bombing planes and four helicopters. We need 10 more planes," she said.
On the other side of the island in the main town San Sebastian, beds were prepared in school lodgings for hundreds of evacuees, mostly tourists and visitors who came by boat from the west, mayor Angel Luis Castilla said.
More than 5,000 people remained displaced from various villages on Monday afternoon, the regional government estimated, half of them from around Vallehermoso in the north of the island.
That area was evacuated on Monday "to guarantee the safety of residents" as the fire advanced through nearby ravines, the regional government said in a statement late Monday.
"Everyone is clearing out. They are moving us, saying it is a precaution, but who knows? We can see the smoke getting closer," said Maria Gonzalez, 43, a visitor from the neighbouring island of Tenerife who fled Vallehermoso with her mother and daughter.
"People are very nervous and afraid," she told AFP as residents piled into buses and cars to evacuate.
On the night of Aug. 12, thousands of people had flocked to the western port of Puerto de Vueltas on La Gomera, from where some caught boats for San Sebastian.
A smaller fire burned hundreds of hectares on Tenerife. Regional security minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz told a news conference early Monday that the fire was stabilized.
Far away on the Spanish mainland, near the southeastern city of Alicante, a forest fire killed two members of the emergency team fighting the blaze, the regional government said.
Firefighters battled through the night against the flames in the pine forests around Torre de les Macanes north of Alicante.
By Monday morning the fire had been stabilized and the flames had died down after covering about 600 hectares, regional government official Serafin Castellano said.
Another man was badly burned in a fire in the northeastern town of Sant Joan Despi and was taken to a hospital in Barcelona, emergency services said.
The 61-year-old victim suffered second- and third-degree burns on up to 60 percent of his body, rescuers said.
Spain is at particularly high risk of fires this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years. The heat topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent days, but eased around most of the country on Aug. 12.
Last month four people were killed by a wildfire in the northern Catalonia region.
The Spanish government said 132,300 hectares of land had been burnt this year up to Aug. 5.
Several blazes have broken out across the country in recent days, including one that burned part of the Cabaneros natural park, a reserve for animals and rare flowers in central Spain.
Meanwhile in Croatia and Bosnia, hundreds of firefighters were also struggling Monday to put out several forest fires.
About 1,500 hectares of land have gone up in flames since Sunday in Croatia's southern Skradin and Komin regions.
In Bosnia, dozens of forest fires have blazed in recent days in the south of the country, notably in the region of Mostar and Konjic.
Copyright 2012 AFP Global Edition