Wildfires Threaten to Burn Precious Natural Parks in Spain

By Andres Guitierrez and Harold Heckle | August 13, 2012

Fierce wildfires forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and were threatening some of Spain’s most precious natural parks, including one that is a UNESCO world heritage site, officials said Sunday.

Fires on the Canary Islands of La Gomera and Tenerife led to the evacuation of more than 4,000 residents beginning late Saturday and the cutting off of many roads as precautionary measures, the regional government said. By mid-afternoon Sunday, residents were still not allowed to return to 18 towns and villages that had been evacuated, eight on the popular tourist island of Tenerife and 10 on La Gomera, the government said.

A statement said firefighting crews working on the islands were “finding it difficult to limit the spread of fire.”

“We are living through hell, we have asked the central government for more resources with which to fight the fire,” said Casimimo Curbelo, local government leader of La Gomera.

At the heart of his island lies Garajonay National Park, which experts say contains woodlands that have survived since the Tertiary age, 11 million years ago.

Water-carrying aircraft that doused flames when the fire first broke out there a week ago were sent elsewhere after officials decided the outbreak had been brought under control, only to find it was rekindled by winds and high temperatures, said regional official Nancy Melo.

Due to the islands’ location, 1,380 kilometers (862 miles) off Spain’s southwestern tip, it can take up to a day for propeller-driven firefighting planes to return once deployed back to the mainland.

A dry winter has been followed by a scorching summer, with temperatures reaching 44° Celsius (111° Fahrenheit) in southern areas in recent days. The state meteorological agency has warned of “a high risk of fires in the country.”

Regional governments reported 10 wildfires raging across Spain on Sunday.

An outbreak at Cabaneros National Park in the west was causing concern because it is considered the largest surviving area of Iberian Mediterranean forest, pinelands that are home to an enormous variety of plant species and endangered fauna like the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Another fire was affecting Donana Natural Park in the southwest, an area of outstanding natural beauty which is also a valuable stopping-off location for Western Europe’s migrating birds.

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