Fires rage on Spanish tourist island for third day

Other News Materials 1 August 2007 16:16 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Fires that forced thousands of tourists and residents to flee their homes in Spain's Canary islands raged for a third day Wednesday despite a huge operation to bring them under control.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was to go to the islands off the west African coast as hundreds of firefighters and volunteers tackle the blazes that have devastated about 35,000 hectares ( 85,000 acres) of forest and mountain scrub.

About 9,000 people remained in emergency shelters after 12,000 were ordered to evacuate on the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, which are packed with tourists from across Europe, authorities said.

Wildfires have also hit Greece and Italy in recent days amid a summer heatwave across southern Europe that has been blamed for hundreds of deaths.

There have been record temperatures in much of the region and fires have now been reported from Spain in the west to Bulgaria in the east.

High temperatures and strong winds fanned the flames and authorities hoped better weather would aid attempts to bring the fires under control.

Authorities said the two main fires had been "stabilised" though not brought under control.

Around 900 people along with six water-dropping helicopters and two planes battled one blaze in the north of Tenerife, a regional authority spokeswoman said. The fire was no longer spreading.

Two more planes and two helicopters were to be added to the force during the day, the spokeswoman said.

"The fire is continuing but we are hoping for a huge improvement in the weather conditions during the course of the day, especially the wind," said the spokeswoman.

Another fire that has swept across part of neighbouring Gran Canaria appeared to be under control after ravaging about 20,000 hectares ( 49,000 hectares) of the island's mountainous and wooded centre, a local government source said.

A large number of the 5,200 people evacuated Monday in Gran Canaria were allowed to return to their homes late Tuesday as the threat from the flames receded.

Zapatero was to meet with the head of the regional government, Paulino Rivero, during his visit, the prime minister's office said. Rivero said Tuesday that the fires were the worst in the Canary islands in the past decade.