Wildfires forced thousands of people to evacuate in Spain’s Canary Islands as flames ravaged a rare nature reserve, while another blaze killed two on the mainland, authorities said Monday.
Engulfing the wooded hillsides in bright flames, the blaze on the island of La Gomera reduced trees and land to black dust and spewed grey smoke, forcing residents and many tourists to flee.
That fire first broke out more than a week ago and has devastated around 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of land, including 800 hectares of the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO-listed reserve that is home to rare subtropical forests.
Water-bombing aircraft were dousing the flames that engulfed a ravine in the west side of La Gomera, driving residents out from the nearby area of Valle Gran Rey.
On the other side of the island the mayor of the main town San Sebastian, Angel Luis Castilla, ordered 800 beds to be prepared in school lodgings for evacuees arriving by boat from Valle Gran Rey.
More than 600 people landed there early Monday morning, most of them tourists and visitors to the island.
“The fire entered the Valle Gran Rey ravine yesterday at great speed that made it very difficult to evacuate,” Castilla said. “The boat was the only way to evacuate people” since the road was cut by the fire.
Police also evacuated the village of Vallehermoso in the north, residents told AFP.
“Everyone is clearing out. They are moving us, saying it is a precaution, but who knows? We can see the smoke getting closer,” said Maria Gonzalez, 43, a visitor from Tenerife, who fled Vallehermoso with her mother and daughter.
“People are very nervous and afraid,” she added. “The whole village is leaving, by car, or if they don’t have one then by taxi or public transport.”
On Sunday night some 3,000 people grouped in the western port of Puerto de Vueltas on La Gomera, far from the flames, the Canary Islands government said in a statement.
A ship took 629 people to San Sebastian on Sunday night and another 281 early Monday.
A smaller fire has burned hundreds of hectares on the neighbouring island of Tenerife.
“The fire in Tenerife is now quite stabilised. In the Valle Gran Rey ravine there is still an inhabited area that needs to be protected,” the regional security minister Javier Gonzalez Ortiz told a news conference.
Far away on the Spanish mainland, near the southeastern city of Alicante, a forest fire claimed a second life when a firefighter died early Monday in hospital, the regional government said.
Emergency teams battled through the night to quell the flames in the pine forests around Torre de les Macanes north of Alicante, which claimed their first victim, a member of the firefighting team, on Sunday.
By Monday morning the fire had been stabilised and the flames had died down after covering about 600 hectares, regional government official Serafin Castellano said in a statement.
Spain is at particularly high risk of fires this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years. The heat topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent days, but eased around most of the country on Sunday.
Last month four people were killed by a wildfire in the northern Catalonia region.
The Spanish government said 132,300 hectares of land had been burnt this year up to August 5.
Several blazes have broken out across the country in recent days, including one that burned part of the Cabaneros natural park, a reserve for animals and rare flowers in central Spain.