Forest fires season 2017: not time yet for Tenerife to let down its guard as Gran Canaria fire now under control after claiming one life

Forest fires season 2017: not time yet for Tenerife to let down its guard as Gran Canaria fire now under control after claiming one life

Photo: Ejército del Aire

Updated 24 September: All the indications are that the Gran Canaria fire “had a human origin”. This is not to say arson, that is not being alleged by fire investigation experts, but it seems that it is that or negligence. “Natural causes” have been ruled out as a possible cause.

Updated 2.30pm: The Canarian Government has announced that the fire is now “under control”, and that the fire status has been reduced from Level 2 down to Level 1, returning the remaining work of extinction to the control of the island Cabildo. Emergency Services have released the following image taken during a helicopter inspection this morning. It clearly shows the blackened peaks and the dividing line above which the fire was blazing.

Updated 23 September: The Canarian Government has said this morning that the Gran Canaria fire remains stabilized and now four out of six sectors are officially under control. They are nearly there, and can now begin to start working towards extinguishing it. The two sectors where firefighters are still struggling to get the blaze under control are Llanos de la Pez and Mesa de Las Vacas to Los Bucios. The night has been calm, with meteorological conditions favourable and no hot points reactivating.

Updated 10pm: Tonight, the Canarian Government has announced that the Gran Canaria fire is at last stabilized. Firefighting continues, but there is a feeling that a corner has been turned this evening. There is still no confirmation that the body found earlier is the missing Swedish woman, but naturally everything points that way. Hopefully in the morning there will be clarity, and the news that everyone wants to hear, that the fire is under control.

Updated 12 noon: Sadly, a body has been found in the midst of a burnt forested area in the peaks of Gran Canaria. It is not confirmed that it is the missing Swedish woman but the grim discovery was made just 600m from her house. The Canarian Government says this lunchtime that the fire is now “stable” but with active points, and teams are working to try to get it under control.

Updated 22 September: After hoping that the fire had been stabilized, land and air units are again in action this morning as the Gran Canaria Cabildo says that the blaze has reactivated in the Llanos de la Pez area due to high winds. The fire is still not yet under control, and additional resources are now engaged in searching for one local who disappeared as the fire approached. It appears that the woman, a Swedish resident of los Llanos de Ana López for twenty years, was last seen in her house as the area was being evacuated, but she has not been seen since.

Updated 21 September: After a night of ceaseless firefighting by bomberos, forestry teams, the army emergency unit, etc., the Gran Canarian Cabildo says this morning that the fire remains active and out of control, but has evolved favourably. Some residents are being allowed home, and some roads have been reopened, with the public warned to stay away from the medianías and mountain areas. The island’s hopes are now on the weather bringing the rain that Aemet has forecast will fall on the northern half of Gran Canaria at some point today.

Updated 10pm: The Canarian Government has given a press conference tonight and confirmed that the fire which started just before 2pm in Gran Canaria is still raging ferociously, with nearly 5,000 acres affected. President Clavijo says that up to 400 residents have been evacuated from affected areas in five municipalities – Tejeda, San Mateo, Telde, San Bartolomé de Tirajana and Santa Lucía de Tirajana.  Over 300 will be engaged through the night battling the fire, among them nine helicopters. This is the Dantesque scene that they will be facing as Tenerife goes to sleep, hoping to wake to better news in the morning as the expected turn in the weather brings cloud and, hopefully, some rain.

Photo: Canarias Tiempo

Updated 20 September: It might be September but it remains hot, and right now a fire in an aggressive phase is raging in Gran Canaria. Locals have been evacuated and people near the peaks have been told to come down immediately; roads have been closed, and land and air teams are firefighting. The video below shows the situation as released by the GC Cabildo just before 4pm. Thankfully in Tenerife we have no such misfortune, but it is not the time yet to let down our guard.

Updated 28 August: The Tenerife Cabildo has finally lifted the ban on fires in mountain areas, including the recreational zones and BBQs.

Updated 27 August: And at very long last, the Canarian Government has lifted its forest fire alert in Tenerife and the other western islands, and Gran Canaria. There are some stormy clouds around as the heat from the Sahara meets a depression in the Atlantic off Portugal, so some rain could fall, particularly at high levels. The coolness, however, is a relief beyond measure right now!

Updated 25 August: Bomberos have been in action in Tenerife and La Palma over the past 24 hours fighting fires that have broken out in both islands. The Tenerife incident last night involved two separate but fires in scrubland in the the La Orotava municipality near the border with Los Realejos. Thankfully the fire was not in the forested areas, and one of the two outbreaks of 300 square metres is extinguished and the other of 100 square metres is under control with firemen working now to put it out completely. The La Palma incident is currently ongoing and could be more serious since it’s in the mountains above San Isidro in the Breña Alta area. It was discovered around midday and land and air teams are currently involved in fighting it: as of 2pm it has been declared under control.

Updated 21 August: We still have a Canarian Government forest fire alert and a Cabildo ban on fire risk activities, but as of today the Dirección General de Seguridad y Emergencias has upgraded its alert to maximum risk of forest fire in the western islands. The DGSE’s upgraded maximum alert is in place from midday tomorrow, Tuesday 22 August, and the Government asks the public to take the utmost care to avoid accidentally starting a fire, and to report any sign of a fire immediately. The English version of the official advice on forest fires is HERE.

Updated 2.30pm: As might have been expected in view of the new Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert, the Tenerife Cabildo has issued its on ban on fires in the mountains – which means any areas shaded in the map opposite. The ban will last until at least the end of the Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert, and means a prohibition on machinery likely to cause sparks, fires in the recreational areas, burning agricultural residue, bonfires etc. Firework displays are also banned near forested areas. The Cabildo urges the public to take extreme care in any activities that could cause fire.

17 August: Although there aren’t any specific weather warnings in place, temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days, and the Canarian Government has issued a forest fire risk alert for the western islands and Gran Canaria from midday today. At present the alert is open-ended, and the public is urged to follow the advice from the Security and Emergencies Board – I’ve posted the English version HERE.

Updated 14 August: And finally, the Tenerife Cabildo has lifted the ban on fires in mountain areas, including the recreational zones and BBQs.

Updated 11 August: And at long last, with heat alerts off and the calima passing to cooler weather, the Canarian Government has lifted its forest fire risk alert in all the western islands and Gran Canaria from midnight tonight.

Updated 7 August: The Tenerife Cabildo has banned fires in the mountains while prevailing weather conditions continue. The ban will last until at least the end of the Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert, and means a prohibition on machinery likely to cause sparks, fires in the recreational areas, burning agricultural residue, bonfires etc. Firework displays are also banned near forested areas. The authorities urge the public to take extreme care in any activities that could cause fire.

Updated 6 August: The Canarian Government has issued an alert for forest fire risk in all the western islands and Gran Canaria from 8am tomorrow morning. The alert is in line with the Government’s alert for maximum temperatures, and the public is asked to follow the official advice HERE (English version).

Updated 31 July: The Canarian Government lifted the forest fire risk alert as of midnight. The Cabildo ban on fires in mountain areas has also now been lifted.

Updated 30 July: A 58-year-old man was badly burned around 8.30 last night while trying to extinguish a fire in the Las Raices recreation area in the Los Realejos municipality. Emergency services say that the man was transferred to HUC where his condition is said to be serious. Bomberos took an hour to extinguish the fire which affected some 70 square metres.

Despite temperatures starting to fall, the Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert remains in place, as does the Cabildo’s ban on all fires in mountain areas – any area shaded in the map on the left is covered by the ban.

Updated 27 July: The Canarian Government has issued an alert for forest fire risk in all the western islands and Gran Canaria while these extreme temperatures prevail. The alert applies from 3pm today. The Public is asked to follow the official advice HERE (English version). Meanwhile, the Tenerife Cabildo has banned fires in the mountains while prevailing weather conditions continue. The ban will last until at least the end of the Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert, and means a prohibition on machinery likely to cause sparks, fires in the recreational areas, burning agricultural residue, bonfires etc. Firework displays are also banned near forested areas. The authorities urge the public to take extreme care in any activities that could cause fire, and the Cabildo will again be maintaining a presence on mountain access roads this weekend to inform drivers about the risk of forest fires.

Updated 1pm: Following the Canarian Government’s decision last night to lift the forest fire risk alert in Tenerife, this lunchtime the Cabildo has lifted its ban on fires in recreational areas and activities posing a fire risk in mountain and forested areas. The Cabildo nonetheless recommends that the public takes the utmost precautions in these areas when doing anything that could represent a risk of accidentally starting a fire.

Updated 18 July: As the heatwave passes, the Canarian Government lifted the alert for forest fire risk in Tenerife as of 10pm last night. There were some dramatic images around midnight of a fire in an area of stubble and palm trees near the refinery in Santa Cruz but bomberos say there was no danger to the refinery or its installations and as of 1am the fire was declared under control. The TF4 junction with the TF1 was closed while firefighters were in operation but is now reopened.

Updated 16 July: A man is under investigation for starting a fire yesterday morning in Taucho, Adeje, not far from the focal point of Tenerife’s last devastating major fire in 2012. As on that occasion, it seems to be not a case of deliberate arson, but of carelessness, with a power tool’s sparks setting fire to some agricultural rubble in a nearby finca. Thankfully, without a high wind, the fire was contained by locals until bomberos, police and Brifor arrived to extinguish it. As announced by the Tenerife Cabildo only two days ago, such tools are banned while the Canarian Government’s forest fire alert is in place and while these weather conditions prevail.

Updated 14 July: The Tenerife Cabildo has banned fires in the mountains due to prevailing weather conditions. The ban will last until at least the end of the Canarian Government’s forest fire risk alert, and means a prohibition on machinery likely to cause sparks, fires in the recreational areas, burning agricultural residue, bonfires etc. Firework displays are also banned near forested areas. The authorities urge the public to take extreme care in any activities that could cause fire. Over the weekend teams will also be maintaining a presence on mountain access roads to inform drivers about the risk of forest fires. The Tenerife Cabildo pleads with the public to avoid using tracks and forested areas as much as possible during this hot spell.

Updated 13 July: With the heatwave expected over the next few days, and on the basis of the forest fire protocol (Plan Especial de Protección Civil y Atención de Emergencias por Incendios Forestales de Canarias – INFOCA), the Canarian Government has issued an alert this afternoon for forest fire risk from midnight tonight. At present the alert is open-ended. The public is urged to follow the advice from the Security and Emergencies Board, the English version of which I’ve posted HERE.

Updated 27 June: The Tenerife Cabildo has lifted the ban on mountain activities as temperatures return to more normal levels.

Updated 23 June: The Tenerife Cabildo has banned fires in the mountains due to prevailing weather conditions. That means no bonfires for San Juan, no machinery likely to cause sparks, and no fires in the recreational areas, so no BBQs. This hot spell is currently only forecast to be in place until Sunday and it is likely that the ban will remain in place while meteorological conditions continue.

Photo: Seguridad Tenerife

Updated 12 June: In addition to the Canarian Government’s summer campaign against forest fires which was announced last month, the Tenerife Cabildo has now itself presented details of its own operational resources. These will comprise 287 personnel, 60 land-based vehicles and 11 helicopters, Tenerife president Carlos Alonso announced this morning. The insular campaign – Operativo Brifor de Prevención y Extinción de Incendios Forestales – will run from tomorrow, 13 June to 16 October, and will repeat protocols established over previous years.

President Alonso thanked the forestry brigades (BRIFOR) for their constant efforts, and the Canarian Government for its overarching coordination and additional resources this year to keep all the islands safe, prevent fires, and extinguish any outbreaks as quickly as possible. In addition to Operativo Brifor and the regional Government measures, there are other specialist fire-fighting organizations at work in Tenerife, including National Park agents, the Consorcio de Bomberos, and the Military Emergencies Unit (UME).

Cabildo environment councillor José Antonio Valbuena stressed that the majority of fires in the islands are human caused, whether cases of arson or carelessness, and said that the Cabildo was concerned to educate the public about necessary precautions so that everyone can enjoy the mountains safely. The Cabildo will also introduce exceptional measures as and when appropriate, most notably during spells of intense heat, which will include bans of all types of machinery and fires in the mountains, and closures of BBQ facilities in public recreational areas.

Updated 19 May: The Canarian Government has announced its forest fire fighting and prevention measures for this summer. The announcement was made in a presentation yesterday by Canarian President Fernando Clavijo with the Government’s Política Territorial, Sostenibilidad y Seguridad minister, Nieves Lady Barreto. Specialist helicopter units (Equipos de Intervención y Refuerzo Forestales – EIRIF) will cover all the islands, being physically based in La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, the result of an investment of almost €3m over two years, explained the president.

The minister, for her part, emphasized that the creation of EIRIF represented fundamental progress in fire fighting and prevention in the Canaries, with the units’ capacity to intervene on any island when required being an important preventative measure which, although it couldn’t stop fires starting, allowed an improved response to extinction and early assistance to stop fires spreading. Each squad will comprise 24 personnel including a technician, a foreman, and 6 specialists, and so together with 3 coordination technicians and 3 physical trainers, there will be 78 additional operatives integrated into the islands’ existing intervention resources.

The units will act as reinforcement for the existing Cabildo cover which each island has in its own right, and will be employed between June and October, the high season for forest fire risk, whenever a fire exceeds insular level and requires a coordinated regional response from the Canarian Government. This will be of particular importance should fires break out on more than one island simultaneously. There will also be a hidroavion from Madrid based in the islands, and the training exercises for that were taking place recently between Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Updated 9 May: The Air Force has announced that hidroavion training is taking place in the Canaries today and tomorrow in preparation for whatever fights the water planes will have to face in summer. They will take the opportunity to familiarize themselves once again with the characteristics of the terrain here should any intervention be necessary. Although based in Gran Canaria for the training, it’s possible that we’ll get a glimpse of them here – their water loading manoevres are something to behold!

The planes’ presence is part of the service that Madrid promised would be provided to these islands every summer. Last year it was not required at all. Let’s hope that it won’t be required this year either, and that its lack of action doesn’t call its presence into question for next year, because each year that passes without a major fire adds more fuel to the fire when it does come.

Photo: La Orotava Ayuntamiento

Original post 12 March: Last year’s post on forest fires in Tenerife was the shortest ever. It was a complete mercy only to have to post in July about fewer than a handful of fires. This year, however, has started early, with the unseasonal heatwave bringing hot winds to Tenerife, and an outbreak in the hills above La Orotava last evening caused quite a scare for the authorities.

The Cabildo says that the fire broke out around 8pm near Aguamansa, in an abandoned orchard in Cueva El Negro, and that it was whipped up by the high winds. There were no dwellings in the area, however, so no-one was at physical risk, and the fire was brought under control by bomberos and the forestry brigade, BRIFOR, coordinated by La Orotava Ayuntamiento, within an hour or so, haing affected half an acre. BRIFOR continued working at the site damping the ground down fully to prevent the fire restarting, and it was declared extinguished around 11pm.

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