Mass evacuations as Tenerife wildfire rages out of control

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Mass evacuations as Tenerife wildfire rages out of control
A wildfire rages out of control through forested slopes in La Matanza on the Canary island of Tenerife on August 19, 2023. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN/AFP.

Firefighters battling a vast wildfire on Tenerife faced another very difficult night after severe weather conditions worsened the blaze, forcing thousands to flee their homes on the Spanish holiday island, regional officials said.


The huge blaze broke out late Tuesday in a mountainous northeastern area of the island, quickly morphing into the Canary Islands' biggest-ever fire.

"It is a devastating fire... a fire on a completely different scale, a scale that the Canary Islands has never experienced before," said Rosa Davila, head of the government of Tenerife.

So far the blaze, which now has a perimeter of 70 kilometres (43 miles), has burned through 8,400 hectares (20,800 acres), the equivalent of just over 4.0 percent of Tenerife's overall surface area of 203,400 hectares.

In an update late on Saturday, Canary Islands regional president Fernando Clavijo said the voracious wildfire had so far displaced "a total of 12,279 people", citing figures provided by the Guardia Civil police.

Earlier, regional officials had given a figure twice as high, with the emergency services saying "provisional estimates suggest that more than 26,000 people may have been evacuated", which government officials later clarified was a number "based on census figures" from the areas subjected to evacuation orders.

And they did not rule out further evacuations, warning of a difficult night ahead.


"Last night was very complicated and tonight is likely to be just as bad, if not worse," said Clavijo of an overnight battle with "severe weather"
characterised by strong winds and higher-than-expected temperatures that saw the flames spreading to the north, forcing a fresh wave of evacuations.

"Tonight's work is going to be very difficult but it will be vital for containing the fire," he said.

'It will ruin us'

As the fire spread down the mountainside towards the northern town of La Matanza de Acentejo, Candelaria Bencomo Betancor, a farmer in her 70s, looked on in anguish.

"The fire is close to our farm, we've got trucks, vans, chickens, everything... it's a business that is going well but if the fire comes, it will totally ruin us," she told AFPTV, on the verge of tears.

"They have to do something because the fire is right there."

So far the blaze has affected 11 municipalities on Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands.

Pedro Martinez, who is in charge of firefighting efforts, told reporters the blaze was "behaving like a sixth-generation wildfire" -- a term referring to a mega forest fire.

"The fire is beyond our capacity to extinguish it, maybe not in all sectors, but in a large part of them," he admitted, saying efforts to tackle the flames were being hampered by the huge clouds of smoke and the wind.


Maria del Pilar Rodriguez Padron, another resident of Matanza, said she was sleeping in her car by the house.

"They offered us a place to stay but we prefer to stay in the car because we can watch the house and see whether it burns or not. Being elsewhere we just wouldn't be able to sleep," she told AFPTV.

The blaze has generated a vast pillar of smoke that now stretches some eight kilometres into the air, rising far above the summit of Mount Teide, the volcano that towers over the island.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected to visit the island on Monday.

Last year Spain suffered more than 500 blazes that destroyed more than 300,000 hectares, making it the worst-hit country in Europe, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

So far this year, it has had 340 fires, which have ravaged almost 76,000 hectares, EFFIS figures show. 


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