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Thousands evacuated from homes as forest fires rage on

Video by Fiona CAMERON


Latest update : 2009-08-03

Hundreds of firefighters Sunday battled a huge forest fire raging on the holiday island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands which has forced thousands to flee their homes.

AFP - Hundreds of firefighters Sunday battled a huge forest fire raging on the holiday island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands which has forced thousands to flee their homes.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who began his summer holiday earlier Sunday on another Canary island, Lanzarote, was due to visit La Palma later in the day to view the situation first hand.
Around 500 firefighters, forest rangers and soldiers fought the flames on the small island as planes dumped water in an effort to bring the blaze under control.
Fanned by a strong wind, the fire has now devastated between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares (3,700 to 4,940 acres) of pine forest since it broke out Friday night, local authority president Guadalupe Gonzalez Tano told reporters.
The fire was now spreading on two fronts, down from three fronts on Saturday when the fast-moving inferno forced some 4,000 people to evacuate their homes.
The wind direction also changed and was now blowing against the progress of the fire, local authorities said, adding that they hoped to bring it under control on Sunday.
In addition, one of the two fronts was heading towards a sparsely forested area of volcanic rock, which would act as a natural firewall, they said.
But one fire close to the southeastern town of Mazo remained out of control.
"I hope that the wind will help us so that the air and land (fire) services can contain it," said Mazo's mayor, Francisco Javier Gonzalez.
He said the change in the weather since Saturday has already meant that flames were advancing more slowly.
La Palma, home to some 85,000 people, is the fifth largest of the seven islands in the Canaries, located in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco and a a popular tourist destination.
But the volcanic island is relatively undeveloped compared to some of its neighbours, such as Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Meanwhile, authorities in Spain's northeastern region of Aragon said fires were still raging near the town of Calatayud and had destroyed some 700 hectares of forest.
Police have arrested two people in connection with that blaze, which broke out on Saturday.
Since the start of this year, fires have ravaged some 75,000 hectares of land in Spain, almost double the number for the whole of 2008. Of that, some 45,000 hectares have been destroyed in the past two weeks.
Eight people, six of them firefighters, have died in the fires on the Spanish mainland since last month.
Spain lost 155,000 hectares to fire in 2005 and another 188,000 hectares in 2006 but was spared major wildfire damage in the past two years, the exception being the Canaries which suffered major blazes in 2007.

Date created : 2009-08-02