Thousands flee Canary wildfires

Tue, Aug 14, 2012, 01:00

Up to 4,000 tourists and locals have been forced to leave the Canary Island of La Gomera as wildfires engulf large swathes of the island.

The blaze is believed to have started when a car broke down then caught fire after its bonnet was lifted. It was one of half a dozen wildlfires raging throughout Spain.

Nearly 1,000 tourists and island residents were taken by boat from the western island town of Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera island, next to Tenerife, after fears fires in surrounding hills could engulf the town.

A further 3,000 people were gathered at the port waiting to see how the fire developed.

The Canary Island regional government said nearly 12 square miles, including land in the Garajonay National Park, had been destroyed since the fire began nine days ago.

The park contains woodlands that have survived since the Tertiary age, 11 million years ago, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986.

The blaze was thought to have been brought under control last week but it rekindled on Friday.

Around 5,000 people were forced to leave other towns on La Gomera and neighbouring Tenerife because of fires over the weekend but were later able to return to their homes.

The Canary Islands are a popular tourism destination, but the fires have not created severe disruptions, said Britain’s ABTA travel industry association.

“Resorts have not been affected by the fires, though as a precaution tour operators have suspended some inland excursions on
Tenerife,” a spokesman said.

Flights have not been affected, though some roads have been closed on La Gomera and some British tourists were offered alternative hotels.

The Canary Island regional government has called on Spain to boost the islands’ firefighting capacity. With the island 850 miles from Spain’s south-western tip, it can take more than a day for reinforcement planes to be deployed from the mainland.

A dry winter followed by a scorching summer, with temperatures reaching 44 degrees in southern areas in recent days, has increased the risks of wildfires greatly.

AP