October 1, 2023

Tenerife: thousands more flee their homes as ‘out of ‘control’ wildfires rage

2 min read

Thousands more residents of Tenerife in the Canary Islands in Spain have fled their homes as a wildfire that authorities deemed “out of control” raged on for a fourth day.

The regional government for the Canary Islands said that 4,000 more people were ordered to evacuate on Saturday. Those were in addition to the 4,500 people who on Friday were forced to move out of harm’s way on the Atlantic island that is home to about 1 million people and is also a popular tourist destination.

That figure of more than 8,000 evacuees is expected to rise, and perhaps sharply.

Fire advances through the forest in La Orotava in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Fire advances through the forest in La Orotava in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain on Saturday 19, August. Photograph: Arturo Rodriguez/AP

The Canary Islands have been in drought for most of the past few years, just like most of mainland Spain. The islands have recorded below-average rainfall in recent years because of changing weather patterns affected by the climate crisis.

EU officials have blamed global heating for the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Europe, noting that 2022 was the second-worst year for wildfire damage on record after 2017.

Greek authorities on Saturday evacuated eight villages near the north-eastern border with Turkey, where a large summer wildfire was burning out of control, whipped up by high winds.

The Tenerife fire comes as Spain’s mainland is bracing for another heatwave. Spain’s state weather service issued a warning on Saturday that temperatures would be on the rise in the coming days, hitting 40C in parts of the mainland.

Spain had a record hot 2022 and is setting new heat records this year amid a prolonged drought that has authorities on alert for wildfires.

Emergency services for the Canary Islands said later that the number of evacuees “could surpass 26,000”, according to provisional calculations based on the island’s census. The service added that all those people who needed somewhere to take refuge would be directed to shelters.

The regional government said that “the fire is beyond our capacity to extinguish it” due to hot and dry conditions and high winds that have fanned the huge flames. Firefighters have been unable to establish a perimeter around the blaze that has consumed at least 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres)

“We have never seen a fire of this dimension on the Canary Islands,” the island’s governor, Rosa Dávila, said.

No injuries have been reported since the fire broke out late on Tuesday.

About 265 firefighters battled the blaze with the help of 19 aircraft, which included units from the mainland sent to help. More reinforcements are on the way, the central government said.

The fire is located in a steep and craggy mountain area with pine trees, with several municipalities on its flanks. Access for firefighters is extremely difficult.

The regional chief of the archipelago, Fernando Clavijo, said that police are investigating the cause of the fire.

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