Fires hit Spain's Canary Islands, threaten unique flora

A gutted house in Igualero, inside the Garajonay National Park. Photo: 6 August 2012 Forests are prone to fires after the driest winter in Spain for 70 years

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Fires on Spain's Canary Islands have destroyed more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of land, including part of a UN World Heritage site.

The Garajonay National Park on the island of La Gomera is home to hundreds of plant species, some of which are unique to the island in the Atlantic.

Firefighters later managed to stop the advance of the blaze, which they suspect was started deliberately.

A fire on the neighbouring island of La Palma was also contained on Monday.

Spain has been hard hit by forest fires this year after experiencing its driest winter in 70 years.

Houses gutted

The firefighters said La Gomera's difficult terrain - particularly the island's deep ravines - had made it difficult to tackle the blaze.

"The ravines act as genuine chimneys for the fire when the wind blows," the head of La Gomera's regional government, Paulino Rivero, told reporters.

A number of houses were gutted in one village inside the Garajonay National Park. Local residents were evacuated after the fire erupted on Saturday.

The park is home to nearly 500 plant species, including rare subtropical forests.

Officials said they had managed to stop the progress of the blaze by Monday evening by using water-dropping aircraft.

Firefighters on the Canary Islands and mainland Spain have been battling blazes for weeks after a winter that saw almost no rainfall.

Last month, four people died in forest fires in the north-eastern Catalonia region.

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