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Thousands evacuated as firefighters battle to control La Palma wildfire

Firefighters were trying to contain a wildfire which burned out of control and forced the evacuation of at least 4,000 people on the Spanish island of La Palma, authorities said on Sunday.

The fire on La Palma started in the early hours of Saturday in El Pinar de Puntagorda, a wooded area in the north of the island, necessitating the evacuation of people from the villages of Puntagorda and neighbouring Tijarafe.

Ten aerial units and 300 firefighters on the ground sought to bring the wildfire under control on the island, which forms part of the Canaries archipelago off the coast of western Africa and which has suffered extreme temperatures similar to those seen in a heatwave afflicting southern Europe.

“Difficult, it was a bit difficult because of the shifting wind and the heat of the last days but we are holding on,” Jose Fernandez, 46, a firefighter, said.

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Firefighters were burning an area to ensure the blaze stopped at a road and did not spread further.

“Now we are going to do a technical fire at this perimeter. We will begin burning that slope so it will come down and stop at the road,” Manuel, a firefighter, said.

“That is what we are going to do to secure all this area and try to save a house. At night the wind is going to come from the top of the mountain downward and if we don’t enclose this area, it could jump over.”

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At least 20 houses were destroyed as the fire advanced, said Fernando Clavijo, president of the Canary Islands.

“There has been some resistance by local people to leaving their homes, but I appeal to people to be responsible,” Clavijo told reporters in La Palma.

The fire has affected more than 4,650 hectares (11,490 acres), authorities said.

In Tenerife, another of the eight Canary Islands, a forest fire which broke out on Saturday (15 July) forced the evacuation of 50 people and destroyed about 60 hectares, authorities said.

King Felipe VI of Spain telephoned Clavijo on Saturday to express his support with the people of La Palma, the Spanish royal household said.

The forest fire is the first natural crisis on the island since a volcanic eruption in September 2021. More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed and many thousands of people were forced to leave their homes when lava began pouring out of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

Ash covered the island for months until the eruption ended three months later.

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