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November 14, 2019

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Flames and smoke from a forest fire are seen in the village of Moya on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain on August 18, 2019. Photo by Borja Suarez/Reuters

Wildfire on Canary Islands forces thousands to evacuate

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — An out-of-control wildfire in Spain’s Canary Islands was throwing flames 50 meters (160 feet) into the air on Monday, forcing emergency workers to evacuate more than 8,000 people, authorities said.

The blaze has charred around 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) in just 48 hours, according to the government of Gran Canaria, a mountainous volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean archipelago off northwest Africa.

The fire is racing across parched woodlands into Tamadaba Natural Park, regarded as one of the island’s jewels. Some two dozen roads have been closed.

Canary Islands President Ángel Víctor Torres said 1,100 firefighters were being deployed Monday along with 14 water-dropping aircraft to battle the blaze that started Saturday afternoon.

Local fire officials said emergency workers faced huge flames and gusting wind shifts that blew embers into the air, starting secondary fires, amid hot summer temperatures that were expected to reach 36 degrees Celsius (nearly 97 Fahrenheit).

A helicopter carries water to fight a forest fire seen in the village of Guia on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, August 19, 2019. Photo by Borja Suarez/Reuters

A helicopter carries water to fight a forest fire seen in the village of Guia on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, August 19, 2019. Photo by Borja Suarez/Reuters

Famous for its beaches and mountains, Gran Canaria and its capital, Las Palmas, are popular European vacation destinations. The blaze, however, was inland and no hotels were reported evacuated, just local villages.

Wildfires are common in southern Europe during the parched summer months but changing habits and lifestyles have made woodlands more vulnerable, experts say.

Gran Canaria emergency chief Frederico Grillo said recent blazes now are much worse — “nothing like those we used to have,” when families worked in the countryside and forests were kept more orderly, private news agency Europa Press reported.

He said if the island’s entire annual budget was used for forest fire prevention, it would still only be possible to clear brush from 30% of its woodlands and the island would still have large amounts of inaccessible areas due to its steep mountains and deep ravines.

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