Forest fire rages out of control on La Palma

Forest fire rages out of control on La Palma

2 August 2009

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Spain — Hundreds of firefighters are battling a huge forest fire raging on La Palma in the Canary Islands which has forced thousands to flee their homes.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, who began his summer holiday today on the sister island of Lanzarote, was due to visit La Palma tonight.

About 500 firefighters, forest rangers and soldiers fought the flames on the small island as planes dumped water in an effort to bring the blaze under control. Fanned by a strong wind, the fire has devastated between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares (3,700 to 4,940 acres) of pine forest since it broke out Friday night, Guadalupe Gonzalez Tano, president of the local authority said.

Yesterday more than 4,000 people were evacuated from their homes as the blaze spread on three fronts. One of the fires is closing in on the southeastern town of Mazo and is out of control.

“I hope that the wind will help us so that the air and land [fire] services can contain it,” Francisco Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of Mazo, said.

La Palma, which has a population of about 85,000, is the fifth largest of the seven islands in the Canaries and a popular tourist destination.

The volcanic island is relatively undeveloped compared with some of its neighbours, such as Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Meanwhile, authorities in Aragon, northeastern Spain, said that fires were still raging near the town of Calatayud and had destroyed about 700 hectares of forest. Police have arrested two people in connection with the blaze, which broke out on Saturday.

Since the start of this year, fires have ravaged 75,000 hectares of land in Spain, almost double the number for the whole of 2008. Of that, 45,000 hectares have been destroyed in the past two weeks.

Eight people, six of them firefighters, have died in the fires on the Spanish mainland since last month.

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