LA PALMA, Canary Islands – A forest fire fanned by high winds has forced the evacuation of about 4,000 residents on the Canary Island of La Palma, the Spanish government said Saturday.
Flames raging on steep hillsides southeast of the island's dormant San Antonio volcano have engulfed several houses and could damage wildlife habitats, environmental worker Narciso Lorenzo said by telephone.
A plume of smoke rose from the island to an estimated height of more than 3,300 feet. It could be seen clearly from aircraft landing at La Palma airport.
The cause of the fire is unknown. Several days of high temperatures have contributed to dry conditions on the normally verdant La Palma — one of the least developed and greenest of Spain's Canary Islands, off the West African coast. Pop singer Madonna praised La Palma by its local name in her song "La Isla Bonita."
Virtually all the island's firefighting forces, including several aircraft, have been deployed to combat the blaze at three points around the town of Fuencaliente.
Spain sent a Military Emergency Unit from the nearby island of Tenerife, and a battalion was preparing to depart for La Palma from a mainland military base near Seville, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said 52 people were evacuated by boat from an area known for rare Canary pine forests and vineyards.
A smaller fire has been controlled on the nearby island of La Gomera, 18 miles southeast of La Palma.
On the mainland, fire crews were combatting four wildfires, from Candamo in northern Asturias to Cortegana in southwestern Huelva, the ministry said.
So far this summer seven people have been killed in wildfires that have consumed an estimated 185,325 acres of forest and farmland in Spain according to the Environment Ministry.