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Tenerife fires destroy Canary Island pine forests
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
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.
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
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!
News links for Tenerife fire
- newsinthesun.com - Forest Fire Tenerife – Good News
Tenerife News and Canary Islands Information Updated Daily In English. News articles of local interest every weekday, as well as news from Spain that affects us here in the Canary Islands and occasional longer features of general interest.
- Tenerife forest fires: Thousands ordered out of town as forest fires rage on Tenerife holiday isle -
More than 2,000 people were ordered to leave the town of Vilafor in the centre of Tenerife - not near to the tourist areas on the coast
- BBC News - Firefighters battle Tenerife forest blaze
Firefighters try to put out forest fires on the Spanish island of Tenerife which have caused hundreds of people to be evacuated from a nearby town.
- Spain Island Fires Force 2,000 To Evacuate
MADRID -- Authorities say raging forest fires have led to the evacuation of some 2,000 people from a town in the center of Spain's popular tourist island of Tenerife. Emergency services spokeswoman Carmina Lorenzo said residents were evacuated from V
- Tenerife town evacuated after wildfires - Telegraph
- Hundreds Evacuated As Tenerife Wildfire Rages
Firefighters continue to battle a wildfire on Tenerife which now threatens a town and a national park popular with tourists.
© 2012 Steve Andrews