Thousands evacuated as wildfire on Spain’s Tenerife island spreads

Thousands evacuated as wildfire on Spain's Tenerife island spreads

Canary Islands, The Gulf Observer: Firefighters on Thursday struggled to contain a wildfire that broke out in a mountainous national park on the Spanish island of Tenerife, prompting authorities to evacuate at least 3,800 people.

The fire’s perimeter expanded to 31 kilometres (19 miles)across dry woodland covering both flanks of steep ravines near the Mount Teide volcano – Spain’s highest peak – hampering access to the area and covering much of the island with smoke clouds and ash.

“When you go outside you start suffocating. It’s as if you have something stuck in your throat,” said Alba Gil, 37, resident of the village of La Esperanza where authorities ordered people to stay home due to the heavy smoke. She and her family stayed up until 4 a.m. worried about the flames higher up the mountain.

The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, has burned through 2,600 hectares (6,425 acres) of land.

“The night has been very tough…This is the most complex fire we’ve had in the Canary Islands in the last 40 years,” the region’s leader, Fernando Clavijo, told a news conference.

Scorching heat and dry weather this summer has contributed to unusually severe wildfires in Europe and western Canada. Hawaii’s Maui was also hit by wildfires which have killed at least 106 people, forced tens of thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate and devastated the historic resort city of Lahaina.

Scientists say climate change, driven by fossil fuel use, has led to more frequent and more powerful extreme weather events.

Pedro Martinez, head of emergency services in Tenerife, said the fire had spread to the north and towards a valley where several camping sites are located.

While some villages were evacuated out of precaution, residents in a few others were ordered to stay home, affecting a further 3,500 people.

A prison and a migrant reception centre were in the areas under confinement, Clavijo said.

Civil protection removed 1,294 people from their homes in the municipality of El Rosario and 1,525 from areas of La Orotava on Thursday, with total evacuations reaching 3,800 people and more still being carried out.

Authorities deployed 17 aircraft and a combined 350 firefighters and military personnel. Additional waterbombing aircraft arrived from the mainland.

All access to the mountains on the island, including tourist-favourite Mount Teide, has been closed off to prevent any incidents.

Tenerife’s two airports were operating normally, Spanish airport operator Aena said.

Last week, a heatwave in the Canary Islands left many areas bone dry, heightening the risk of wildfires.

This summer, firefighters have extinguished a series of forest fires on the islands of Gran Canaria and La Palma, which form part of the Canary Islands archipelago.