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Tenerife fires destroy Canary Island pine forests

Updated on September 30, 2014

Fire breaks out in Ifonche near Vilaflor

On Sunday 15 July, a forest fire broke out in the Ifonche area near Vilaflor in the south of Tenerife. In the searing heat the island was already experiencing, and in the tinder dry conditions prevailing due to the ongoing drought, the flames soon had the Canary Pines ablaze.

As the fire quickly spread helicopters were rushed to the area to try to put it out and fire-fighters sent to combat the blaze. Sadly, despite their efforts, hampered by the summer heat and by wind that fanned the flames, the fire continued to spread. It has continued for four days and made international news after emergency evacuations took place and help was requested from mainland Spain. Special water-carrying planes were sent over to help the helicopters in their efforts to extinguish the spreading forest fire.

Tenerife fires as photographed at night

Tenerife fires as viewed from the TF-51 just south of Vilaflor, 16 July 2012. Photo by David Parkes of Tenerife Outdoors -http://www.tenerifeoutdoors.com/.
Tenerife fires as viewed from the TF-51 just south of Vilaflor, 16 July 2012. Photo by David Parkes of Tenerife Outdoors -http://www.tenerifeoutdoors.com/. | Source

Forest fire, Ifonche in Tenerife

International and local news

The fires were not only spreading, literally like wildfire on Tenerife, but also in the international press and have continued to the fourth day when I am writing this. The BBC has covered the story, as have The Guardian, The Mirror and Telegraph newspapers in the UK. Further afield in America, CNN and the Huffington Post have also reported on the blaze, though details vary in all sources of coverage of the Tenerife forest fire.

Some sources claim that 2,000 people were evacuated on Tuesday from Vilaflor, which is the highest mountain village in the canary Islands, and others state that it was 1,800. Some reports are saying that the fire was started in an orchard by the careless burning of stubble, whilst deliberate arson is also being suggested.

This latter possibility is sadly very real and happened in 2007, not only in Tenerife but in Gran Canaria as well. The culprit, who was a former forestry worker with a grudge, was caught in Gran Canaria but the Tenerife arsonist evaded police.

Whatever the cause of the fire was it has burned some 2,000 hectares of land, according to officials. It was threatening to spread into the forests of the Mt Teide national park as well, and did so apparently but was fortunately extinguished there before it got very far.

As well as the residents of Vilaflor who were evacuated on the Tuesday evening when flames were near the village and encircling the football ground, all the people of Chirche also had to move out for their safety on the Wednesday. A very large cloud of smoke had formed over the village, and elsewhere on the island smoke was causing problems or could be seen and smelled.

The resorts along the coast of Tenerife South have not been affected by the fires though the smoke could be easily seen from down below the mountains.

The islands of La Palma and La Gomera have also had forest fires burning at the same times as those in Tenerife.

Latest news

According to Ricardo Melchior, president of Tenerife Cabildo, there is good news for the island as of 19 July, because most of the fire within its 41km perimeter is now under control apart from some parts still burning above Chirche.

According to official estimates, the fire has affected 5,200 hectares, of which approximately 1,000 acres is burned to some extent and another 500 are completely destroyed. This represents some 1% of the total forest land in Tenerife, so all is not lost despite the devastation.

Residents of Vilaflor, Ifonche and Tijoco Alto are being allowed to return to their homes that were evacuated for their safety.

Many access roads to the mountains had been closed but the TF583 (Taucho road) and the TF585 (Tijoco Alto road) are open again and other roads will be following suit as soon as all danger is passed and clean-up operations have been finished.

Official map of Tenerife fire area

Map showing the area of the fire.  Source: website of Gobierno de Canarias
Map showing the area of the fire. Source: website of Gobierno de Canarias

Will the forests recover?

The big question now is what will happen next and will the forests ever recover? Fortunately, Canary Pine trees can often rejuvenate themselves and sprout again even though they have been burned in forest fires. This is not the case for the vegetation that grows below them and the countless species of the island's unique flora and fauna will have been killed in the the blaze. Birds will have been able to fly away but many small animals would not have been so lucky and will have perished in the blaze.

The top parts of the, aptly named Barranco del Infierno ("Ravine of Hell"), was also within the burning zone, though how much of it was affected and how badly is unknown at time of writing. This ravine is famous for its natural beauty and also houses populations of some very rare endemic plants. It can only be hoped that they escaped the fire.

Unfortunately, the island needs plenty of torrential rain to give the trees and other vegetation a chance of recovery and this cannot be expected until October or even later. In the meantime the areas that were burned will be bare ground, charred tree trunks and ash - a most inhospitable place for wildlife of any sort!

We can only hope for earlier rains, and that the autumn and winter are not like the last ones in which there was s sever shortage of rainfall, and for which the island has been paying the price ever since!

Vilaflor

© 2012 Steve Andrews

Comments

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    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Tenerife

      There is a new fire just broken out today in Erjos but I don't have any further details.

    • James Eades profile image

      James Eades 

      6 years ago

      Aussie firm seeks donations to launch predictive virtual 3d earth fire mapping mobile app http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/192919?a=746377 check this out, if your concerned about fires, this app may save your life

    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Tenerife

      Somebody must know who did it in 2007. The news reports at the time said that whoever it was had repeatedly tried to start fires in the location they finally succeeded in. The island was i a serious heatwave again at the time and again winds fanned the flames. They never caught who did that! Whoever they are they should be locked up for good if they ever do catch them!

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 

      6 years ago

      That's terrible! I sure hope they catch them all, especially the one doing it regularly!

    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Tenerife

      We know that past fires in the canary Islands were started on purpose. They caught someone in 2007 in Gran Canaria but the arsonist here was never caught and had attempted to start fires many times. People are careless too. I have seen lots that throw lighted cigarette ends away. It is a wonder we don't have more fires actually!

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 

      6 years ago

      I'm sorry to hear about this fire. I've seen so many burned surfaces where nothing grew anymore. Italy and the rest of Southern Europe is on fire, too. The saddest thing is that these fires were started on purpose or just because people were being careless.

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