People Forced to Evacuate Over Wildfire in Spain's Canary Islands

The fire is devouring the mountainous centre of the holiday island

The fire is devouring the mountainous centre of the holiday island

An out-of-control wildfire in Spain's Canary Islands was throwing flames 50 meters (160 feet) into the air on Monday, forcing emergency workers to evacuate more than 8,000 people, authorities said.

Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canary Islands archipelago, which is 150 kilometres west of Africa.

No fatalities have been reported and tourism on Gran Canaria, which boasts breathtaking views and is popular with foreigners, had not been affected.

Canary Islands President Ángel Víctor Torres said 1100 firefighters were being deployed in shifts along with 16 water-dropping aircraft to battle the blaze that started Saturday afternoon.

Officials said the fire has a "great potential" to continue on Monday.

As of Sunday, approximately 4,000 people were evacuated from Tejeda, Valleseco, San Mateo, Galdar, Moya and Artenara areas of the island.

Sixteen planes and helicopters as well as more than 700 firefighters are now working to contain flames as high as 50 metres, authorities said.

The island has been experiencing temperatures into the high 30s Celsius, humidity levels below 30 percent and very strong winds, making it all the more hard for the firefighters to control the fire.

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Environment Minister Planas said the next 48 hours would be "critical". More than 3,400 hectares have burned so far and the fire is moving aggressively towards the northwestern Tamadaba natural park, home to some of the island's oldest pine forests.

The fire is also threatening the Inagua nature reserve, another area of major biodiversity.

"When (weather) conditions begin to change that is when we can begin to control the fire", he added.

Two other fires hit the island's centre last week without causing injury.

"That's what is known as firestorms". About 50km in diameter, Gran Canaria has a population of 850,000.

Torres said the "maximum priority" was to "preserve human lives".

The archipelago received 13.7 million foreign visitors previous year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.

Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.

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