Gran Canaria wildfire forces evacuation of thousands

The Canary Islands’ government has said the fierce blaze cannot be contained or controlled

TOPSHOT - Flames rise from a forest fire raging in Montana Alta on the island of Gran Canaria on August 18, 2019. Authorities on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria evacuated residents as a forest fire broke out just days after another blaze raged in the same area.
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Wildfires have forced the evacuation of more than 5,000 people on the Spanish territory of Gran Canaria as fierce blazes spread across the volcanic island in the Atlantic.

In a statement, the Canary Islands’ President Ángel Víctor Torres said the “voracious fire” has spread across 3,400 hectares on Gran Canaria off the north-west coast of Africa “without being contained or controlled”.

The wildfires, which began on Saturday near the town of Tejeda, have quickly spread because of a combination of strong winds, high temperatures and below average rainfall, affecting 40 towns and municipalities on the island.

Fourteen aircraft including hydroplanes and helicopters are being used to battle the blaze. The government has also sent 1,100 firefighters to quell the fires with military support.

Desiccated woods in Gran Canaria’s Tamadaba Natural Park have acted as tinder to the blazes, with secondary fires started by embers being thrown into the air, the Associated Press reported.

While transport links have been cut on the island with 11 roads closed by the fire, the coastal areas frequented by tourists have been barely affected. No hotel in the popular tourist destination has closed because of the blazes.

A heatwave on the island has pushed temperatures to over 36°C, and the island’s fire chief, Frederico Grillo, said the resulting wildfires were far worse than others in recent memory. He explained changes to the working life of the island, whereby fewer people worked in the countryside, meant the forests were not maintained as well as they had been in the past.

Mr Grillo also said the island’s entire annual budget would not be enough to clear the brush from its inaccessible woodlands.