Water bombers fight Spain wildfires

2012-08-12 19:28
Smoke billows across houses as a wildfire burns near Chipude Village, La Gomera, Spain forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people across the country. (Andres Gutierrez, AP)

Smoke billows across houses as a wildfire burns near Chipude Village, La Gomera, Spain forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people across the country. (Andres Gutierrez, AP)

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La Gomera - Wildfires that drove thousands from their homes raged uncontrolled Sunday at a World Heritage park on Spain's Canary Islands, while in Greece rain helped douse a fire near another protected site.

In Spain elderly villagers spent the night in hotels and student halls after thousands of people fled fires on the Atlantic islands of La Gomera and Tenerife, part of the Canaries archipelago.

The fires on La Gomera have forced the evacuation of more than 4 700 people in the past two days, the regional government said. Some people in the west of the island were evacuated by sea in boats after the fire had cut off the road.

The fire continued unabated on Sunday, sending up plumes of black smoke as fresh flames erupted on the wooded hillsides and planes dropped water on them, an AFP photographer saw.

Apolonia Garcia Castaneda, an 83-year-old mother of 10 who was evacuated overnight on La Gomera, said she had to leave behind her chickens, sheep and crops as well as her dog.

"I haven't been able to sleep. I rested a bit, but the fear doesn't go easily," she said.

Her village of Los Loros is in the Garajonay nature reserve, a Unesco World Heritage site that is home to rare subtropical forests in the centre of the island.

The flames had charred more than 500ha since they revived on Friday after devastating 3 000ha earlier in the week, authorities said.

Flames on Tenerife have spread over some 370ha, the regional head of the Canary Islands emergency services Juan Manuel Santana told a news conference on Sunday.

Sweltering

He warned that high temperatures and low humidity on Sunday made it harder to control the blaze.

"It is going to be a difficult day for everyone, most of all for those fighting the fire," he said.

Emergency services spokesperson Lourdes Jorge told AFP: "We are still on alert for high temperatures on the archipelago, and that makes the extinction work more difficult."

The maximum temperature on the islands was forecast to reach 39°C on Sunday after a sweltering week across Spain.

In Vallehermoso on the north of La Gomera, 150 people who fled nearby villages overnight spent the night in hotels and school accommodation, an AFP photographer there said. Many others were housed by friends and relatives.

"Most of the people we've taken in are over 65 or children," said Maria Dolores Arteaga Amaro, a local social worker in charge of looking after the evacuees.

"Most require regular medication, so a volunteer nurse has worked around the clock taking care of them."

Spain is at extra high risk of fires this summer after its driest winter in 70 years. The government says 132 300ha of land have been burnt so far this year and blazes have broken out across the country in recent days.

Rain in Greece

On the mainland, officials in the northwestern Galicia region said that among a series of wildfires there, the biggest one had ravaged 1 200ha.

Among several other fires reported, one erupted on Saturday in Ger in Catalonia, northern Spain, one in the Cabaneros national park in central Spain and another near the Donana park in Andalucia in the south.

Meanwhile in Greece, rainfall overnight helped hundreds of firefighters to bring a blaze under control near Mount Athos, another World Heritage site housing a remote monastic community in northeastern Greece.

The region houses some 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries which are self-governing and date back more than 1 000 years to Byzantine times.

The rain "has saved us", said Ana Aristos Kasmiroglou, a state representative for the monastic community.

That blaze, which may have been the result of arson or negligence, destroyed 1 500ha of forest and consumed olive trees and vines.

Read more on:    spain  |  greece  |  fires
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