Islanders evacuated as fires cause 'living hell'


Wildfires have forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and are threatening some of Spain's most precious national parks, including a Unesco World Heritage site.

Blazes on La Gomera and Tenerife in the Canary Islands led to the evacuation of more than 4,000 people on Saturday. By mid-afternoon yesterday, residents were still not allowed to return to 18 towns and villages on the two islands. The government said fire crews were "finding it difficult to limit the spread of fire".

"We're living through hell, we have asked the central government for more resources with which to fight the fire," said Casimimo Curbelo, local government leader of La Gomera.

Among sites on the island at risk is Garajonay, a World Heritage park that contains woodlands that have survived since the Tertiary Period, 11 million years ago.

Water-carrying aircraft that doused flames when the fire broke out a week ago were sent back to the mainland after officials decided the outbreak had been brought under control, only to find it was rekindled by winds and high temperatures.

Due to the islands' location, 850 miles off Spain's southwestern tip, it can take up to a day for propeller-driven firefighting planes to return once deployed back to the mainland.

The mainland has also suffered a series of wildfires, including one at Cabaneros National Park, home to rare flora and fauna such as the Spanish imperial eagle.

A dry winter has been followed by a scorching summer, with temperatures of 44C (111F) in southern areas. The state meteorological agency has warned of "a high risk of fires in the country". AP

Regional governments reported 10 wildfires raging across the country yesterday. Between 1 January and 29 July, wildfires destroyed at least 130,830 hectares of vegetation in Spain.