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Weather helps firefighters get a handle on island blaze

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-04

Cooler conditions and light rain have helped firefighters in their efforts to control wildfires that have been raging across the holiday island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands, where thousands have been evacuated.

AFP - Firefighters on the Spanish island of La Palma were on Monday beginning to master a fire that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes, local authorities said.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire on the small island in the Canaries archipelago has ravaged some 2,000 hectares of pine forest and destroyed dozens of homes since it erupted on Friday night.

But cooler temperatures, gentler winds and light rain on Monday helped firefighters to bring one of the two active fronts under control, the authorities said.

Around 500 firefighters, forest rangers and soldiers, helped by planes dumping water on the fire zones, have been battling to bring the blazes under control.

On Saturday, the fast-moving inferno forced some 4,000 people to evacuate their homes.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero broke off his holiday Sunday to inspect the devastation first hand.

La Palma, home to some 85,000 people and a popular tourist destination, is the fifth largest of the seven islands in the Canaries, which is located in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco.

But the volcanic island is relatively undeveloped compared with some of its neighbours, such as the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

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.

Date created : 2009-08-03