More than 2,000 people were evacuated as a wildfire rages “out of control” on La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands on Saturday, destroying around a dozen homes, authorities said.
The blaze has affected an area of about 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) and officials warned residents that the situation could worsen because a heat wave has made the terrain tinder-dry.
“The fire has spread very fast,” Canary Islands regional president Fernando Clavijo said. “The fire is out of control.”
He said that some residents didn’t want to abandon their homes, and he appealed for people to be responsible and heed the calls for evacuation.
Clavijo said that he was very concerned about the possibility of shifting winds at night, saying they could make the evacuation operation more dangerous. He said that 10 aircraft were battling the fire, and that water-dropping planes were expected to arrive.
The wildfire and evacuations come nearly two years after a three-month volcanic eruption caused devastation on La Palma. While nobody was killed, around 3,000 buildings were buried along with many banana plantations, roads and irrigation systems.
The fire is on the western side of La Palma on wooded, hilly terrain dotted with homes. It’s not an area that was directly impacted by the 2021 volcanic eruption.
Puntagorda’s mayor, Vicente Rodríguez, told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE that the fire started inside the limits of his municipality. He added that the area has seen below-average rainfall in recent years, just like large parts of the drought-stricken mainland, because of changing weather patterns impacted by climate change.
The fire coincides with a heat wave that is hitting southern Europe.
Spain saw record high temperatures in 2022 and this spring as it endures a prolonged drought. Authorities and forestry experts are concerned that the conditions are ripe for a difficult wildfire campaign after seeing virulent fires as early as March.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight members of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago off Africa’s western coast. At their nearest point, the islands are 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco.