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Gran Canaria fire: Hundreds forced to flee as wildfires rage on holiday island

‘We are overwhelmed by the situation. We continue working and fighting for our island’

Andy Gregory
Sunday 11 August 2019 13:50 BST
Fire ravages Gran Canaria causing mass evacuations

Mass evacuations are taking place on popular tourist island Gran Canaria after a blaze thpught to have been started by a soldering iron grew into a raging wildfire in the early hours of Sunday.

Firefighters said they were “overwhelmed” by the inferno estimated to have ravaged 900 hectares since 6pm on Saturday, forcing emergency services to evacuate hundreds of people in more than a dozen neighbourhoods.

A 55-year-old Spanish man was arrested in connection with the fire, which began 20km from capital Las Palmas in the Artenara region, local media reported.

“We are overwhelmed by the situation. We continue working and fighting for our island,” the Gran Canaria fire department tweeted early on Sunday morning.

Canary Islands president Ángel Víctor Torres was pictured holding an emergency meeting with a Spanish government delegate, local leaders and emergency services.

Further military support from as far as Seville was requested, including 10 additional aircraft.

At 11:30am, Mr Torres said the risk was “still high”, confirming 1,000 hectares had been affected and that evacuations continued in Artenara, Tejeda and Gáldar.

Some 400 people were evacuated during the night, local media reported. They were sheltered in municipal buildings, such as sports centres, schools and community halls, Gran Canaria fire department tweeted.

Authorities initially declared the blaze stabilised on Saturday night, after more than 120 troops worked to extinguish flames in Jucalillo and the Tamabada Natural Park, but it soon reignited in a series of secondary outbreaks, forcing officials to declare a higher level of emergency.

At midday on Sunday, vast plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the smouldering hillside, reportedly from all over the island and in Tenerife.

The fire is next expected to spread towards the fertile Tejeda Basin and Pinar de Tamadaba.

Additional pressure was placed on Gran Canaria authorities to tame the inferno after Spain’s state meteorological agency forecasted strong winds on the island on Monday, issuing a yellow weather warning.

Nearly a million UK tourists are estimated to visit the island every year. So far no casualties have been announced.

The five-year period to 2018 was the hottest ever recorded, and extreme weather and wildfires are on the rise

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “Staff at our consulate in Las Palmas are monitoring the situation and stand ready to assist any British people who need help.”

Staff had not received any requests for assistance from UK citizens and were in touch with local authorities, they said.

Europe has seen temperature records eviscerated in 2019, with experts at European Commission-funded Copernicus EMS warning Spain faced ”extreme danger” due to possible fires in July.

A 2018 Met Office study found such heatwaves were 30 times more likely than in pre-industrial times, as a result of climate change.

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