Morocco sends planes to fight Spanish island fire
Houses are seen in a burned valley in Barranco de Guada on the Canary island of La Gomera, Spain Tuesday Aug. 14, 2012. (AP / Yaiza Mesa)
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012 9:20AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 14, 2012 10:48PM EDT
SAN SEBASTIAN DE LA GOMERA, Spain -- Morocco sent two water-bombing planes Tuesday to help Spain battle a stubborn 10-day-old wildfire that has scorched nearly 10 per cent of the land on the Canary Island of La Gomera, including ancient woodlands.
The wildfires are the latest blazes in a summer forest fire season that has been one of the worst in recent memory for Spain and Portugal.
Drought-like conditions and high temperatures have made it extremely difficult for authorities to extinguish the fires. But Canary Island regional government spokeswoman Candelaria Ceballos said the extra planes and a drop in temperatures were raising hopes that firefighters might finally control the blazes that have burned 30 square kilometres (12 square miles) inside and outside the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The addition of the Moroccan planes bumped the number of firefighting planes working at La Gomera up to seven, plus seven water-bombing helicopters. Each plane on Tuesday was landing like clockwork every 30 minutes or so on the ocean to pick up water, taking off to dump it on burning areas and then returning for more water.
Forest fires in Spain burned 1,300 square kilometres (500 square miles) from January through Aug. 5, officials said, more than triple for the same period last year. In Portugal, there were nearly 3,000 wildfires reported through July, double the average over the last decade. The amount of scorched Portuguese forests almost tripled this year to 200 square kilometres.
Hit particularly hard in Spain have been the Canary Islands, which are popular among tourists, and forested areas in southern Spain near the Mediterranean. In Portugal, the fires included a raging blaze that burned homes late last month on the edge of the largest city on Madeira Island. The Madeira and Canary archipelagos lie in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwestern coast of Africa.
Two firefighters were killed battling blazes over the weekend in Spain's Alicante region. But the country's most devastating fire deaths this year happened in late July in the Catalonia region near the border with France. As the fires raged for days, a key cross-border highway was closed because of smoke, forcing French motorists heading home from vacations in Spain to take an alternate route.
A fire caused by a tossed cigarette from the line of slow-moving cars on the smaller road started another blaze -- forcing more than 100 people to abandon their vehicles and scramble down steep hills toward the Mediterranean.
A French family of five somehow got separated from the group and found themselves at the edge of a seaside cliff with no choice but to jump or try to climb down. The father and a daughter plunged to their deaths, and the mother was seriously injured.
The fires in Spain have forced thousands of evacuations this summer, most recently on La Gomera, where nearly 1,000 island residents and tourists were taken to safety Monday by ferry. At the worst point of the La Gomera fires, about 5,000 people had been evacuated, a quarter of the island's population. But many were allowed to return home Monday night.
Ash fell on beaches last month in Portugal's southern Algarve region, another popular European tourism destination, as a wildfire fueled by strong winds raced across the hilly hinterland.