Fire in Spain's Canary Islands forces La Gomera exodus

Evacuees talk about the moment they were rushed to the ferry

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Firefighters are battling a forest fire on La Gomera in Spain's Canary Islands which forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people by ferry overnight.

The worst affected area on La Gomera is Valle Gran Rey. Road access has been cut by the fire, which has spread with high winds and tinder-dry vegetation.

A smaller area is ablaze on Tenerife.

On the mainland, two firefighters died while helping to extinguish a wildfire in Torremanzanas, a village north of the eastern coastal town of Alicante.

Spain's El Pais news website says eight helicopters and six planes helped firefighters on the ground to douse the Torremanzanas blaze.

Aircraft are also being used on La Gomera, where fires are advancing on three fronts.

Two boats took 910 people from Valle Gran Rey to La Gomera's main town, San Sebastian. In all, more than 5,000 have been evacuated since Friday.

On La Gomera - a less popular holiday destination than Tenerife - officials say the fire has destroyed part of a nature reserve with "incalculable ecological value".

Canary Islands map

Spanish media say about 3,000 people have fled their homes in the Valle Gran Rey area. There are no reports of casualties, but the damage to homes has not yet been assessed.

Evacuees are being accommodated temporarily in a school gymnasium.

"The latest news I understand from the locals is that the fire has calmed a little, but if winds change, it may pick back up," Helen, a British tourist in Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera, told the BBC.

"It is my understanding that most of the evacuations are from people who live in the surrounding villages, and many locals here are extremely worried for relatives in these villages. I understand many men sent wives and children to safety, but may have stayed behind to dampen and protect homes.

"Most tourists are German or Spanish. Most Germans here have coming for the local hiking; I came for the whale-watching. The island ecosystems have been devastated."

Dry winter

Spain has been hard hit by forest fires after its driest winter in 70 years. Temperatures on the Canary Islands have soared recently as high as 40C (104F).

On La Gomera, the flames have consumed about 750 hectares (1,853 acres) of woodland in the Garajonay nature reserve, a Unesco World Heritage site, some of which is believed to have been in existence for millions of years.

Officials have already said it will take at least three decades for the burnt areas of the reserve to recover.

In north-western Spain, villages have been evacuated in Ourense, a district of Galicia, where officials say forest fires have now been contained.

A big contingent of firefighters, supported by 13 helicopters and 16 planes, tackled the Ourense fires at the weekend. About 1,200 hectares were consumed by fire.

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