Tourists evacuated as Canary Island blaze spreads

A raging forest fire that has burnt thousands of acres of woodland on Spain’s Gran Canaria island forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people today, including several dozen tourists, authorities said.

A forest ranger was arrested for allegedly starting the fire deliberately, authorities said.

Fifty tourists were moved from an inland hotel in the south-eastern municipality of San Bartolome de Tirajana because the blaze had reached a nearby hill, provincial government spokesman Roberto Moreno said.

The national news agency Efe said the tourists were mostly German. Phone calls to the hotel went unanswered.

Moreno said another 2,000 residents were evacuated from their houses in the Mogan region in the south-west of Gran Canaria, which is part of Spain’s Canary Island archipelago located off Africa’s north-west coast.

Describing the fire as the island’s “worst-ever ecological disaster,” Moreno said temperatures of around 50C and intense winds made conditions “insufferable” for about 200 firefighters using 10 helicopters to try to battle the blaze.

About 20 houses have been damaged by the fire, including that of Mogan Mayor Francisco Gonzalez.

Those moved from their homes were housed in a sports complex in Mogan, Moreno said.

The blaze, which began Friday in a mountainous area, has charred about 9,000 acres of land, most of it forested with pine trees.

The fire was thought to be under control last night but it flared up again over night. Many areas ablaze are in rough terrain that was hard to reach.

On Saturday, police said they arrested a 37-year-old forest ranger, who allegedly acknowledged starting the fire, saying his job contract was about to expire and he wanted to keep working.

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