Spain’s La Palma island forest fire under control

Spain’s La Palma island forest fire under control

4 August 2009

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Spain — A forest fire on the Canary Island of La Palma was brought under control Tuesday and another that raged for two weeks in Spain’s northern Catalonia region has been extinguished, an emergency official said.

The La Palma fire, which started last Friday in the southern part of the island, destroyed some 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) and burned some 50 houses. La Palma is one of the least developed and greenest of the seven Canary Islands off northwest Africa, and was celebrated by pop star Madonna in her song “La Isla Bonita.”

“There are no prospects of the fire (on La Palma) spreading. It’s now in a controlled area and all that is left to do is put it out,” said island security official Jose Miguel Ruano.

La Palma is also home to some of the world’s most powerful observatories, including the recently opened euro130 million ($185 million) Gran Telescopio Canarias reflecting mirror telescope atop an extinct volcano. The telescope’s location above cloud cover was selected to take advantage of La Palma’s normally pristine skies.

The fire forced some 4,000 people to be temporarily evacuated from southeastern towns Saturday. Most have returned to their homes, some of which have been gutted by flames.

Ruano said the cause of the fire was still being investigated but said it may have been started by a firework rocket.

On the mainland, the northeastern regional government of Catalonia said a blaze that led to the deaths of five firefighters in a nature reserve near the town of Horta de Sant Joan, west of Barcelona, has finally been put out after 15 days.

That blaze had destroyed 1,140 hectares (2,800 acres) of woodland.

Wildfires have killed at least nine people and burned about 75,000 hectares (185,000 acres) of forest and scrubland in Spain so far this year, more than double the amount burnt in all of 2008.

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