Canary Islands - Gran Canaria Wildfires. Up in the mountains and forests not holiday coastal resorts
Blog by Jo Farrow
20th August 2019 14:29

Canary Islands - Gran Canaria Wildfires. Up in the mountains and forests not holiday coastal resorts

Reading some media stories you'd think that the Gran Canarian wildfires were singeing towels and sunbeds. this is not the case. Holidaymakers head to the Canary Islands for warm sunshine and dry weather. That might be winter sunshine away from the UK, or just fine weather with a refreshing breeze, rather than stifling inland heat, in the summer. Gran Canaria has been in the news recently due to wildfires which have been burning inland in the mountainous north of the island, away from the coastal holiday resorts but with terrible impacts to some forested areas and homes.

It takes about 4.5 hours to fly to the Canary Islands from the UK and with average temperatures of 18 to 27C they are popular holiday destinations.  Most of the resorts on Gran Canaria are in the south of the Island, with the capital and airport to the east. The fire hit areas do include a nature reserve, Tamadaba and roads which tourists might have explored by car but the local tourism industry is keen to let people know their holidays will be fine. If you weren't familiar with the dramatic ways of our UK media, you would have concerns. 

Map of the Canary Islands

Tui "The diverse island also features stunning beaches, massive sand dunes and mountains covered in pine forests – perfect for hiking."

It is those pine forests which are burning, along with farm areas and homes. Already the various wildfires have burned more than 10,000 hectares (equivalent size to a third of the Isle of Wight) and could have affected 10,000 people, leading to displacement. New evacuations occur each day.

"It seems to be slow, but the whole mountain is being eaten," says Paca Déniz,  with his suitcases packed in the car,” El Pais

The climate of all the Canary Islands is warm, quite dry and breezy. Gran Canaria has average temperatures of 27C in August and wouldn’t expect to see any rain in July or August. If the winds pick up from the Saharan desert, hotter air hits the islands. Gran Canaria has been under a temperature warning from the Spanish Met service AEMET for temperatures on Tuesday 20th up to 36C. However, this heatwave alert has come to an end. These islands are usually breezy, the average wind strength is over 20mph, which is a fresh wind. The strong NE then N winds have been fanning the wildfires although the weather is not the only issue.

More firefighting resources are arriving each day, firefighters, planes and helicopters even drones. The main area on fire has mountains and ravines and fewer roads. So, the only firefighting option (and sometimes for evacuations) is by air. For tourists arriving at the airport and heading away around the coasts to their resorts, they may witness comings and goings of seaplanes, more emergency service personnel and help from other islands. Even politicians from mainland Spain. The smoke has been pushed away SE, out over the sea so far so tourists could be unaware of the island events if they avoid the news.

Local people are losing their land, businesses, farm areas and homes. There is fear as the fires creep forward and worries for family and friends and the firefighters. This is the biggest fire since 2013 when Gran Canaria last had huge wildfires. This summer's fires have morphed, faded and then returned, with one person being arrested for using welding machinery and suspicions of him starting the fire in one area.

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Fires do occur naturally in the forests and have been used as an agricultural practice, for soil regeneration and to clear areas. However, how people live and use the mountainous interior has changed, alongside our world's changing climate.

Raúl de la Calle: "We have a very serious fire problem due to climate change, the depopulation of the rural environment and the lack of management". The secretary general of the Official College of Forest Engineers.

He warned that as the mountains were being abandoned, there were more fires when the area needed ongoing help and work. People tending sheep and other livestock would have kept an eye on the remote areas, firewood would be gathered and used up, clearing the current lying fuel. Farming practices are changing and the timber harvest is being scaled down. So there is more fuel to be burnt, and traditional fire management of clearing the undergrowth and prescribed (controlled) burning doesn’t occur as much. All adding to the problem.

“ Fires are increasingly difficult to address due to the climate change scenario, high temperatures and the state of our mountains," he insisted.

The firefighters continue their dangerous work. There are some lulls and the weather conditions seem to be easing slightly. The UK government have issued advice for those travelling to the islands or mainland Spain, but this could cover anywhere with a fire risk. We've had our own issues with wildfires here in the UK due to people's carelessness or worse. 

EFFIS fire risk Copernicus

GOV.UK "In Gran Canaria, several areas in the north west of the island have been evacuated due to an ongoing forest fire. The authorities are working to extinguish the flames. If you’re in the area or planning to visit, check the latest updates and information on Twitter @112canarias and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Forest fires occur frequently in Spain (including Spanish islands) during the summer months. Take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, do not light barbecues and do not leave empty bottles behind. You should be aware that causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Spain even if unintentional. If you see what you think might be the onset of a forest fire, call the emergency services on 112."

Gran Canaria weather

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