Fire in Spain's Canary Islands an 'ecological disaster'

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Media captionFootage showed the extent of the fires on the mainland and La Gomera in the Canary Islands

Firefighters in Spain's Canary Islands are still struggling to contain a blaze on La Gomera described by a local official as an "ecological disaster".

Five planes and seven helicopters are supporting firefighters on the ground.

But a change in wind direction means the flames are not spreading as quickly as before, Spanish media report.

About 5,000 people were evacuated on the island, but most of them can return to their homes now, officials say. So far the fire has destroyed 39 homes.

Morocco is sending a firefighting plane to help Spain tackle the fire.

About 25% of the Garajonay nature reserve, a Unesco World Heritage site, has been destroyed by fire. The area measures about 750 hectares (1,853 acres).

The woodland is a unique ecosystem, believed to be millions of years old. Javier Gonzalez Ortiz, the Canary Islands' head of security and emergencies, described it as "an ecological disaster".

More than 4,000 hectares of La Gomera's total area - equivalent to 11% - has been affected by fire since last Thursday.

High winds and tinder-dry vegetation have helped the flames to spread rapidly. But on Tuesday the temperature in Vallehermoso - one of the hotspots - was 25C (77F), lower than the searing heat of recent days.

Jessica Molloy, who lives in San Sebastian on La Gomera, told the BBC that many evacuees in the city had returned home.

"I spoke to a couple of people and they said they were looked after well by the Spanish Red Cross, the local authorities and volunteers. They were worried about their houses and animals," she said.

The Canary Islands' government has complained that it has taken too long for firefighting aircraft to reach the islands from the mainland, the Spanish news website El Pais reports.

In reply, Environment Minister Miguel Arias Canete pointed out that the planes were propeller-driven, hence slower than jets, and that they could not fly at night, so requests had to be made first thing in the morning.

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

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