Canary Islands firefighters make progress tackling forest fires

Canary Islands firefighters make progress tackling forest fires

15 August 2012

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Spain– Cooler temperatures and favourable winds are helping firefighters tackle an 11-day-old fire raging on the Canary Island of La Gomera, Spanish authorities said on Wednesday.

The forest fire is among the worst to have affected Spain so far in 2012. This year wildfires have caused triple the damage of the previous year, and critics say cutbacks are hampering efforts to deal with the blazes.

The Canary Islands regional government said on Wednesday that the fire on the island, which lies off the north African coast, was still out of control. But firefighters were making better progress because of a sudden drop in temperatures and a change in wind direction.

The fire has so far burned more than 11 square miles, in and around Garajonay National Park, a Unesco world heritage site in the centre of the island.

The Canary Islands government has long demanded its firefighting equipment be boosted by the central government.

Miguel Ángel Cañete, the agriculture minister, has acknowledged that cutbacks have probably affected the ability of regional governments to prevent or put out forest fires. He pledged new measures soon but gave no details.

The ministry said that forest fires in Spain had burned 500 square miles from January to 5 August this year; the total is more than triple that of the same period in 2011.

The newspaper El País on Wednesday said that the fires, while started mostly by people and spread by dry conditions and soaring temperatures, had coincided with severe cutbacks in spending by both regional and national governments.

“Prevention is less costly than repairing the damage done,” the paper said in an editorial.

Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund have for years criticised Spain over its forest fire prevention programmes.

Spain is in a double-dip recession with almost 25% unemployment. It has introduced austerity measures to try to convince EU partners and investors that it intends organising its finances to avert a full-blown sovereign bailout.

One of the biggest tasks is to reduce the swollen central and regional government deficits. This has led to large cutbacks in spending by regional governments – which are responsible for fighting forest fires.

On Tuesday the cash-strapped central region of Castilla-La Mancha announced plans to cut its number of firefighters by almost a third.

Unions and the opposition Socialist party have also complained about cutbacks in firefighting efforts in other regions such as north-east Catalonia, central Castilla y León and north-west Galicia, all of which have been badly affected by blazes.

Three firefighters and three civilians, including two French tourists, have died in recent wildfires.



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