By Agence France-Presse
A fire raged out of control on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria Monday, forcing evacuations as flames rose so high even water-dropping planes could not operate in what was dubbed an “environmental tragedy”.
The blaze, the third in 10 days in the mountainous center of the island, has forced the evacuation of several villages with a combined population of 9,000, a spokeswoman for the emergency services said.
The exact number of evacuees was unclear on the island that lies at the heart of the Canary archipelago off the coast of northwest Africa.
No fatalities have been reported and tourism on Gran Canaria, which boasts breathtaking views and is popular with foreigners, had not been affected.
“It’s a huge forest fire, extremely serious, which happened in a heatwave,” and it is still not under control, Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told reporters late Monday.
“This is an environmental tragedy.”
Next 48 hours ‘critical’
Altogether, 1,000 firefighters and other crew and 14 water-dropping helicopters and planes were working on controlling the blaze, which is estimated to have destroyed 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres), according to emergency services.
This deployment “is the biggest ever carried out in the Canaries and one of the biggest implemented in Spain in the past few years,” said Agriculture Minister Luis Planas.
Firefighters said the blaze was propelled by high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity.
So fierce is the fire in what is part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve that in some areas, it “is beyond our extinction capacities,” Federico Grillo, head of emergency services in Gran Canaria, said late Sunday.
On the northwestern flank of the blaze, flames have risen as high as 50 meters (160 feet), preventing ground crew or water-dropping aircraft from approaching, the emergency services spokeswoman said.
She added around 100 people had been “confined” to the cultural center of Artenara, unable to leave this village in the disaster zone as all possible evacuation roads were too dangerous.
Environment Minister Planas said the next 48 hours would be “critical”.