Spain wildfires kill 2, prompt tourist evacuations

AP News
Posted: Aug 13, 2012 6:54 AM
Spain wildfires kill 2, prompt tourist evacuations

MADRID (AP) — Two firefighters have died from injuries sustained in battling a wildfire in Spain's eastern province of Alicante while hundreds were evacuated by boat to escape a fire raging on the Canary Island of La Gomera, an emergency services official said Monday.

One firefighter died Monday in an Alicante city hospital while another died there Sunday, and two other crew members were being treated in the hospital, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with service regulations.

He said the blaze is believed to have started when a car broke down and caught fire when its hood was lifted.

The Alicante blaze was one of half a dozen raging throughout Spain on Monday.

Nearly 1,000 tourists and island residents were evacuated by boat from the western island town of Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera island, located off the northwest coast of Africa, as authorities feared fires in surrounding hills could engulf the town.

A further 3,000 people were gathered at the town's port area Monday waiting to see how the fire developed, said Candelaria Ceballos, spokeswoman for the Canary Island regional government.

She said some 3,100 hectares, including some 800 hectares in the Garajonay National Park, had been destroyed since the fire began Aug. 4. The park contains woodlands that have survived since the Tertiary age, 11 million years ago, and was declared a World Heritage Site by the U.N. cultural agency in 1986.

The blaze was thought to have been brought under control last week but it rekindled on Friday.

Some 5,000 people were evacuated from other towns on La Gomera and neighboring popular tourist island of Tenerife because of fires over the weekend but were later able to return to their homes. Ceballos said the fire on Tenerife fire had affected some 300 hectares of land.

The Canary Islands are a popular tourism destination for Europeans, but the fires have not created severe disruptions, said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for Britain's ABTA travel industry association.

"Resorts have not been affected by the fires, though as a precaution tour operators have suspended some inland excursions on Tenerife," he told the Press Association news agency.

Flights have not been affected, though some roads have been closed on La Gomera and some British tourists were offered alternative hotels, Tipton said.

The Canary Island regional government has called on Spain to boost the islands' firefighting capacity. With the island 1,380 kilometers (850 miles) from Spain's southwestern tip, it can take more than a day for reinforcement planes to be deployed from the mainland.

A dry winter followed by a scorching summer, with temperatures reaching 44 Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) in southern areas in recent days, has increased the risks of wildfires greatly.