Thousands flee fires in Spain's Canary Islands

Wildfires sweeping across Spain's Canary Islands have forced authorities to evacuate around 11,000 people in the biggest fires on the archipelago in a decade, the head of the regional government said Tuesday.

 Thousands flee fires in Spain's Canary Islands
Wildfires sweeping across Spain's Canary Islands have forced authorities to evacuate around 11,000 people in the biggest fires on the archipelago in a decade, the head of the regional government said Tuesday.

The fires, which broke out on Friday, have covered 24,000 hectares (59,000 acres) on two of the archipelago's seven islands -- Gran Canaria and Tenerife -- after being fanned by strong winds, Paulino Rivero said.

"The rugged landscape of these islands makes firefighting very complicated, except from the air. But while there is a lot of wind and very high temperatures, helicopters generally cannot operate," Rivero told private radio Cadena Ser.

Temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the archipelago Tuesday with winds of up to 65 kilometres (40 miles) an hour, the national weather office said.

Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona announced a state of "maximum alert" and said additional planes were being sent to the picturesque archipelago off Africa's western coast to battle the flames.

On Gran Canaria, around 5,200 people were taken to safety and the fires have ravaged around 10,000 hectares of the island's mountainous and wooded centre, Rivero said.

On Tenerife 5,700 people were evacuated from the path of the fire, which had already destroyed 14,000 hectares, he added.

"These are the biggest fires on the archipelago in the last ten years," he said.

Several houses had been burned, he said. Many roads on the islands were also closed because of the fires, officials said.

A spokesman for Gran Canaria's island authorities told AFP that the "perimeter" of the area affected by the fires was about 20,000 hectares, although not all this zone had been scorched.

A local official said the fires had ravaged a large section of the Palmitos Park zoological garden, home to some 150 bird species and thousands of palms in the south of the Gran Canarias.

"It's a dramatic situation here on the island," the official said.

Fires were burning on four active fronts but attention was being focused on two in the central Fataga area, the spokesman for Gran Canarias island said, adding that only two of the 10 helicopters equipped to drop water were able to operate there because of the "terrible" wind.

A spokeswoman from Tenerife's island authorities said some 300 members of the fire, military and civil protection services were currently fighting the blazes with the support of 34 trucks, four helicopters and a water-bomber plane.

Meanwhile, emergency services in southern Portugal said that a major forest fire that broke out late Monday -- the hottest day of the year, according to meteorologists -- had been brought under control overnight.

No new blazes had broken out Tuesday, officials said, and lower temperatures enabled authorities across the region to shift to a reduced level of alert.

AFP
Last Mod: 01 Ağustos 2007, 01:09
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