Spain wildfires kill 2, displace thousands

2012-08-13 15:02

La Gomera - Wildfires killed two people in southeastern Spain and forced thousands to evacuate in the Canary Islands where flames ravaged a rare nature reserve, authorities said on Monday.

Engulfing parched scrub and trees in bright flames and thick grey smoke, the fire near the southeastern city of Alicante claimed a second life when a firefighter died early on Monday in hospital, a regional government spokesperson said.

Firefighters battled through the night to quell the flames in the pine forest of Torre de les Macanes north of Alicante. The fire remained active after breaking out on Sunday, the spokesperson said.

"The fire has been stabilised" after covering about 600ha, a national government spokesperson in the region said on Monday.

The same fire claimed a first victim on Sunday, a member of the firefighting team that was tackling the blaze, backed by water-bombing aircraft. Two other firefighters remained in hospital.

Far away on the Atlantic archipelago of the Canary Islands, a popular tourist destination, aircraft were dousing flames engulfing a ravine on the western side of the island of La Gomera.

Fanned by warm winds

That fire first broke out more than a week ago and has ravaged around 4 000ha of land, including 800ha of the Garajonay National Park, a Unesco-listed reserve and home to rare subtropical forests.

Fanned by warm winds on Monday, it raced through the tinder-dry cane and pasture in the ravine, forcing residents to evacuate from the nearby area of Valle Gran Rey.

About 3 000 people, including many visitors, grouped in the western port of Puerto de Vueltas on La Gomera, far from the flames, the Canary Islands government said in a written update.

Those who chose to leave had to be ferried off by boat because the road was cut off, the government said. A ship took 629 people to the eastern side of the island on Sunday night and another 281 early on Monday.

"The fire remains active and 10 aircraft - planes and helicopters - will intervene during the day," said a spokesperson for the Canary Islands emergency services.

A smaller fire has burned hundreds of hectares on the neighbouring island of Tenerife.

132 300ha burnt

"The fire in Tenerife is now quite stabilised. In the Valle Gran Rey ravine there is still an inhabited area that needs to be protected," the regional security minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz told a news conference.

Spain is at particularly high risk of fires this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years. The heat topped 40° in recent days, but eased around most of the country on Sunday.

Last month four people were killed by a wildfire in the northern Catalonia region.

The Spanish government said 132 300ha of land had been burnt this year up to 5 August, and several blazes have broken out across the country in recent days.