Fire-rescue plan for tortoises

QUITO (Reuter) - Ecuadorean authorities are planning to evacuate a colony of giant tortoises, like those pictured left, threatened by a fire raging across the largest island of the Galapagos archipelago, officials said yesterday.

A civil-defence spokeswoman said officials had lost hope of controlling the fire before it reached the home of the unique Galapagos tortoises. She said the evacuation, expected within days, would be difficult because some animals weigh up to 400lb and cannot be transported without special equipment.

The flames have already burnt more than 3,700 acres of Isabela Island since the fire started last Thursday. President Sixto Duran Ballen declared the island in a state of emergency late on Tuesday and said his administration had asked for international help to control the fire. The President added that he was freeing up to dollars 250,000 ( pounds 170,000) for the firefighting efforts despite a serious budgetary squeeze caused by low prices for the nation's oil exports.

Ecuador is hoping to borrow four special planes from Canada and the United States to spray the island with water. But firefighters said the planes would not provide much help to extinguish the fire that threatens to damage one of the most prized environmental treasures in the world.

'Unless we get rain, it might take a whole month to control the flames,' the civil-defence spokeswoman said.

(Photograph omitted)