Tenerife Wildfire Forces Thousands to Evacuate

by Pelican Press
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Firefighters on the Spanish island of Tenerife scrambled on Friday to contain a devastating fire, described as the most complicated in the Canary Islands in 40 years, after it blackened forests, prompted lockdowns and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

More than 4,500 people have been forced to flee their homes since the blaze began to spread early on Wednesday in a wooded and mountainous region in the island’s north, where firefighters and troops from the Spanish armed forces have been struggling to limit the spread of the flames and divert them away from nearby settlements and homes.

The regional authorities on Friday said the blaze had consumed more than 3,797 hectares or about 9,400 acres in a perimeter of about 25 miles, though more favorable conditions overnight meant the blaze had at least temporarily stopped expanding.

“Tonight, at least, the fire has behaved and the weather has behaved normally,” Fernando Clavijo, the regional president for the Canary Islands, told reporters on Friday, adding that firefighters had worked intensely to stop the fire’s progress after it moved in an unpredictable manner earlier in the week. Mr. Clavijo said he was hopeful that the forecast would improve, but added that the blaze still was not under control.

At least eight municipalities have been affected by the fire, though local authorities on Friday lifted the lockdown order on La Esperanza, a village northeast of Teide National Park, where 3,820 residents had been ordered earlier in the week to shelter in place. The priority on Friday, Mr. Clavijo said, was to confine the fire to an area near the village.

For residents closest to the fire, the past few days have been marked by streams of choking smoke and an overcast sky with an orange glow that has been filled with falling ash.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said María Luisa Pacheco, who began receiving alerts on Thursday morning to evacuate her home of 60 years in the town of La Orotava and watched the fire progress with tears in her eyes, according to the Spanish newspaper El País.

“The situation is upsetting,” said Ana Belén Perdigón, 44, another resident who also had to evacuate, told the paper. She and her family has been staying in a local sports center with dozens of others, worried that they will not be able to return home.

Southern Europe has been hit hard by extreme temperatures this summer, helping stoke conditions for hundreds of wildfires in the region. Among the areas to swelter was the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands, a popular tourist destination in the Atlantic Ocean just west of Morocco, where temperatures have soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.

Though it is difficult to link individual events to climate change, experts say weather patterns are intensifying the conditions that fuel disastrous wildfires and help them to burn longer and more aggressively.

And more heat is expected in the coming days, with high temperatures forecast for Spain, France and other parts of Europe, a source of consternation to Spanish firefighters concerned that the heat will make it even more difficult to bring the Tenerife blaze fully under control.

In addition to the high temperatures, the Canary Islands have experienced less rainfall than usual in recent years, local officials said, and experts said the combination of the two has increased the risk of wildfires. Blazes last month burned through the island of La Palma, forcing 4,000 residents to flee and razing an estimated 10,000 acres.

The Tenerife fire, Mr. Clavijo said on Thursday, was the “most complex” that the Spanish archipelago had seen in 40 years, making it “difficult” to quell because of the terrain and weather conditions. Wildfires last summer ravaged a record 750,000 acres in Spain, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System.

The authorities on Tenerife were also spurred to place restrictions on water use after a canal funneling water to the island’s north ruptured, and they encountered difficulties reaching the area to repair it.

More resources arrived on Friday to bolster hundreds of firefighters and a fleet of aircraft already working to stamp out the blaze, including a contingent from the nearby island of Fuerteventura and equipment from the defense ministry. Government officials have cautioned that people in affected areas should take care and wear masks to protect themselves from smoke inhalation.

“With all the material that is in the air and the wind, air quality and breathing are really difficult in some areas,” Mr. Clavijo said on Friday.





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