Valleseco fire is under control

Photo: Gran Canaria Cabildo.

Updated 26 August: Finally, some really good news about the Valleseco fire which has today been declared under control. As firefighters now turn to the extinguishing phase, Emergency Services says that access is allowed to the fire-affected area for residential and economic purposes, but recreational, sports, fiesta, hunting and tourism purposes remains prohibited until the area is safe. Although there is no actual ban on traffic generally in the area the authorities request the public to avoid it, reducing transit to the strictly necessary.

Updated 25 August: The original fire in Gran Canaria, the Artenara fire, has been declared extinguished. Finally! It was brought under control on 14 August. The authorities stress, however, that the Valleseco fire is still not extinguished, and that firefighters are still dealing with it. They remind the public of the repeated requests to stay away from the peak areas, and those affected by the fire. But the Artenara fire, at least, is over.

Bomberos Gran Canaria

Updated 24 August: It’s blowing what is familiarly called a hoolie, and temperatures are well above 30º, and humidity below 30%. Maximum risk conditions, and the Valleseco fire is still not controlled. But it is perimetered securely, so hopefully there will be no serious reactivations this weekend as firefighters continue to bring the blaze under control in dire conditions. Meanwhile, Las Palmas buses have redecorated their back ends … a lovely gesture you can see on the photo to the left (click to see full size). And yesterday, the Spanish Army’s Military Emergencies Unit left: the video below shows the farewell they received from the firefighters as they were about to board their plane home. Lovely gestures, both.

Updated 22 August: President Torres said in this morning’s briefing that there have been a few reactivations of the fire during the night but they are within the stabilized boundary, and don’t involve any serious risk. Nonetheless he reitereated that while the boundary has been stabilied, the fire with or without reactivations remains out of control and therefore the public must be very cautious and avoid going up to the peak areas. I’ll leave off the twice-daily updates now and only post if there is further significant news.

Updated 11.30pm: Canarian President Ángel Torres has declared the Valleseco fire stabilized. It will remain at Level 2 leaving coordination of the phase to bring the fire under control in the hands of the Canarian Government. President Torres also said that the national Spanish resources will be staying for now to continue supporting the next phase. More than 75% of those evacuated from the in all ten municipalities affected have now been able to return home.

The President asked the public to stay aware from the areas affected while the firefighting is directed to bringing the fire under control. He thanked the Gran Canarian society, the media, and above all the heroes who have worked directly fighting the fire. “We can never repay the debt” he said.

Updated 21 August 10.30am: The news this morning is more positive than we could have hoped, with Spaish Defence Secretary Margarita Robles saying that the fire could well be stabilized by this evening. She said that PM Pedro Sánchez will himself visit Gran Canaria tomorrow. Meanwhile, in Tamadaba, the forestry houses and camps have been unaffected, and it is possible that all evacuees will be able to return home before the day is out. Roads will also start to be reopened throughout today. There will be more later, but for now, this is better than we could ever have hoped to hear!

Updated 11pm: The Valleseco fire is now in stabilization phase, Canarian president Ángel Torres said tonight. The current perimeter is 112km and 25,000 acres are affected.  The perimeter kilometres have increased because of the fire’s twists and turns, while the acreage has not in fact increased because the damage in Tamadaba was much less than believed at first. President Torres said that in the beautiful park bomberos have even seen rabbits – alive and running about! – something that has gladdened everyone’s hearts because it is such a good sign. Also positive is that some residents have been allowed to go home after the fire has swept past them, but the fire is still very active, and today over 1.5m litres have been dumped on the flames by the 16 aircraft (helicopters and water planes) operating in the zone. Two more helicopters will join the fight tomorrow. The fight continues tomorrow, and the emphasis is on “phase of stabilization”, i.e. not yet even stabilized, let alone under control, and we can’t even think yet of extinction … but the tone of the briefing was clearly different tonight: they begin to discern an end to the nightmare.

Updated 20 August 10.30am: Gran Canaria Cabildo’s Chief of Emergencies Federico Grillo says that the fire has devoured a further 5,000 acres overnight and is now heading south towards Mogán. The Cabildo stresses, however, that although the fire has reached the area of some houses in the medianías of the municipality it is still nowhere near the tourist areas. Householders anywhere, however, have been told that evacuations remain possible, likely in many cases, and inevitable in some: the public is advised to have a bag ready to lock up and leave home and head for refuge as soon as they see smoke, the authorities reiterating that human safety is their principal focus. 

There was a further scare late last evening when fire appeared to break out in a barranco in Arguineguin in the south but it transpired to have been caused by an exploding gas bottle and the fire was rapidly put out. There are, too, other pieces of not bad news! One is that the wind has died down, at least for the moment, so further advances seem containable; another is the incredible mercy that although the fire got into the Tamadaba National Park – the lung of Gran Canaria – the damage has not been extensive, with the wind blowing the fire straight through the surface leaving the topmost canopy untouched.

Moreover, one flank of the fire has actually been contained: it’s one of ten, but at least it’s contained. The task must seem insurmountable but the Bomberos appear to be endowed with superhuman ingenuity, stamina and courage. Meanwhile, it’s day 4 in the other flanks, but Grillo says they are hoping for better news throughout today and yet more Brifor and army resources are already on their way from Madrid, leaving Barajas airport around 9am.

Updated 11pm: As another day comes to an end in Hell on Earth, the situation is worse than ever. The fire now has a perimeter of around 75km, with 25,000 acres affected. As a measure, the night before last that acreage was 1,000; this morning it was 8,500. Tonight, nearly 500 personnel will be fighting it again, with the authorities now focusing quite deliberately on preserving life and property, the best they are able to do given the inferno they face, and further evacuations are seen as inevitable through the night. The Spanish Air Force has released this short film of the sea planes filling up today.

Updated 1.30pm: The European Union is helping Spain fight the Gran Canaria fire by providing maps through the EU’s Copernicus satellite imagery system. The EU has also offered to help in any other way they can, Spain just has to ask. EU Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said that the provision of maps was all that Spain had requested so far but that the EU remains on standby and ready to provide any assistance needed.

Updated 19 August 7am: The Gran Canarian Cabildo says that the Valleseco fire is beyond hope of control at present. Further resources are being sent from Tenerife, our own Cabildo has confirmed, with two more fire engines and 16 Brifor (forestry brigade) personnel heading there today along with environmental technicians. Householders in the affected area have been instructed to clear any weeds or flammable material from around their houses, and as evacuations increase, to depart their properties with personal documents and necessary medicines immediately on receiving an evacuation order. The priority, says the Cabildo in desperation, is saving lives.

There are meanwhile wholesale efforts to save and protect not just wildlife but animals found in the street, along with livestock. The Cabildo has facilities where farmers can take their animals, and the Guardia Civil has been rounding up stray dogs and taking them to refuges. In the latest briefing from the GC Cabildo, we are informed that the 1,000 acres damaged by the Valleseco fire are now 8,500 acres. Flames are 50m high and extreme caution is needed by firefighters to avoid them being trapped by secondary fires and changes in wind direction.

Desperate times in Gran Canaria.

Updated 7pm: They always were afraid of this one because of the weather conditions and, particularly, its location and the fuel that provided for a major fire to become ferocious. And it has. Tejeda is now in real trouble, and in the last hour or so it is confirmed that the fire has entered the Tamadaba National Park, one of the most pristine areas of the island, not far off 20,000 acres of Unesco Biosphere Reserve. This is a jaw-dropping and tragic sight (click for full size), and it’s not really necessary to say that it is rightly being called “a disaster”, and that as yet there is no hope of getting it under control.

Photo: Incendios, Alertas y Emergencias en Canarias

Updated 18 August 10am:  Today, Gran Canaria is in hell, many residents in temporary evacuated accommodation, roads closed, public told to stay home, and hunting and any other activity in the mountains fiercely banned. It was 32º already by 9am this morning in Fontanales, and the video below is from one fire engine “just off to work”, another day in Dantesque conditions. The wind is complicating things – you can hear it in the video – and the situation is said to be “especially difficult” in  El Rincon and La Crucita (Tejeda). On it way as of 7am this morning from the Morón Air Base near Seville is a Spanish Air Force T-10 carrying 63 army personnel to join the firefighters who are even burning the hedgerows of some roads like the GC21 in a desperate attempt to create firebreaks.

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Updated 11pm: Gran Canaria is facing a literal nightmare for the second time in a week as firefighters face yet another terrible night as this latest voracious fire devours over 1,000 acres in just a few hours. Roads are closed, the public is told in no uncertain terms to stay away from the area, villages are evacuated. Again. Sadly, the forecast is not looking good either, with winds gusting to over 70 km/h expected tonight. At least we can say that there are no injuries thus far, and that over 150 ground crew of forest rangers, technicians, voluntary and Consorcio bomberos, and the army’s Military Emergencies Unit are all battling this overnight, to be joined in the morning by a further 100 army personnel, and the resumption of air resources at first light – there will be two planes and nine helicopters.

Original post 17 August, 6.45pm: It’s just three days since the Artenara fire in Gran Canaria was declared under control, and indeed the fire is still not fully extinguished, but today another major fire has broken out and the authorities are describing it as a nightmare, a fire with “great potential” to cause huge damage.

All resources have been dispatched to deal with the outbreak in the Valleseco area, and the village of Tejeda, evacuated in the Artenara fire, has again been evacuated as the fire has rapidly reached the area: indeed firefighters are concerned that they’ll lose the famous Cruz de Tejeda Parador hotel which was openly reopened last year after complete renovation following a forest fire in 2017. The Canarian Government has declared the fire as a level 2 and so has assumed control of firefighting efforts which include air and ground resources, and the Army Emergency Unit.

The Canaries are also currently experiencing a calima that has pushed temperatures up into the high 30s, and the slow reduction from tomorrow back to normal values can’t come quickly enough. The fire also follows a couple of confirmed arson attempts over recent days, one being a 13-year-old caught in the act with a lighter in his hand. These are horrible images:

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