September 28, 2023

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Tenerife fires: thousands evacuated on the Spanish island

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain (Reuters) – Firefighters struggled on Thursday to contain a huge blaze that broke out in a mountainous national park on the Spanish island of Tenerife in hot, dry weather that spread for 41 km and overwhelmed authorities. to evacuate more than 3,000 people during the day.

“The fire is still advancing… but the priority is to defend the population centers tonight,” district leader Fernando Clavijo told a news conference near midnight.

He said earlier that the wildfires are the most complex that the Canary Islands have faced in the past 40 years.

Emergency services are expecting high temperatures on the island over the weekend, and a change of winds from the early hours of Saturday morning could push the fire westward from northeast Tenerife.

“The evolution of the fire is slower now,” Pedro Martinez, head of the island’s emergency service, told reporters. About 200 firefighters will continue to work through the night.

Early in the day, while water-bombing planes managed to pin down the flames south of Mount Teide volcano – Spain’s highest peak – the fire advanced “out of control” on the north side through dry woodland towards a valley where several camping sites are located, resulting in Smoke and ash covered much of the island.

“When you go outside you start choking. It’s as if something is stuck in your throat,” said Alba Gil, 37, of the village of La Esperanza where authorities have ordered people to stay indoors because of the thick smoke. She and her family were kept up until 4 am by the flames at the top of the mountain.

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On Wednesday, the fire broke out across at least 3,273 hectares (8,088 acres) of land.

Extreme heat and dry weather this summer have contributed to unusually severe wildfires in Europe and western Canada. The Hawaiian island of Maui was also hit by wildfires that killed at least 106 people, forced tens of thousands to evacuate and devastated the resort town of Lahaina.

Scientists say climate change, driven by the use of fossil fuels, has increased the frequency and strength of extreme weather events.

The heat wave that gripped the Canary Islands last week has left many areas dry, increasing the risk of wildfires.

Authorities warned that the spreading fire could lead to more evacuations and confinement, and advised people to stay on top of public service alerts. So far, 3,820 people have been ordered to stay at home until tomorrow, said Director of Civil Protection Montsi Roman.

There was a prison and immigrant reception center in the reserved areas.

The authorities deployed 17 aircraft and 350 firefighters and military personnel. Roman added that 16 aircraft will resume their duties on Friday due to a helicopter failure.

“We’re watching the big mountain and the fire, we’ve seen this firewall and we’ll see if they can get it under control,” Celestino Suarez, 53, said. “It looks very bad.”

All access to the mountains on the island, including the tourist-favorite Mount Teide and the Astrophysical Institute of Teide, have been closed off to prevent any mishaps.

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Spanish airport operator Aena said Tenerife’s two airports were operating normally.

(Reporting by Corina Pons and Borja Suarez) Written by Andre Khalil; Editing by Christina Fincher, Alexandra Hudson, and Grant McCall

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Corina is a Madrid-based business reporter focusing on covering retail, infrastructure and tourism including some of Spain’s largest companies such as Inditex and Ferrovial. She was previously a senior correspondent in Venezuela, where she reported on the efforts of Ch├ívez and later the Maduro government to retain power and its impact on the economy. Contact: +690725854