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FOREST BLAZES

Two more fatalities as series of wildfires rage across Spain

Thousands evacuated on La Gomera island as blaze spreads

Flames consume large swaths of land across the country

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A man fights to put out the blaze in La Torre de les Maçanes (Alicante).

The worst summer for wildfires in Spain for the last decade continued over the weekend and into Monday, with blazes raging in the Canary Islands, Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, Galicia and Alicante. In the latter, a fire in the Torremanzanas area claimed two lives between late Sunday night and the early morning of Monday, when a firefighter and a forest ranger suffered fatal burns during the effort to put out the blaze.

Two further firefighters were injured tackling the same fire, which started on Saturday and has devoured some 600 hectares across Torremanzanas, Penáguila and Benifallim.

In the Canaries, around 1,000 people were evacuated overnight on Sunday from the Vallehermoso area of La Gomera, joining some 3,000 people that were forced to flee to the capital, San Sebastián, over the weekend from Valle Gran Rey on the western edge of the island.

The two fatalities brought the number of firefighters killed over the summer to three. In July, a helicopter pilot died during the catastrophic fires that ravaged some 50,000 hectares in Valencia province.

The central government representative in Valencia, Serafín Castellano, said that the Torremanzanas blaze had been largely brought under control. The alert level in northern Alicante and Valencia remained high on Monday.

The regional premier of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, told the media that the situation was “very serious” and the chances of controlling La Gomera’s blaze were low due to high temperatures, low humidity, the wind direction and the terrain the fire is affecting.

Rivero added that around a quarter of the island’s population — some 5,000 people — had been evacuated for their own safety over the weekend. The Military Emergency Unit reinforced its contingent with 53 more personnel and a fourth firefighting tanker plane.

The blaze has consumed some 750 hectares of the Garajonay National Park, A Unesco World Heritage Site.

Environment Minister Miguel Arias Cañete has come in for criticism for his lack of visibility during August, with wildfires raging unchecked across the country.

The Socialist secretary of territorial organization and sustainability, Hugo Morán, denounced the minister’s presence at a bullfight on Sunday “while Spain burns.” Cañete had not previously been seen in public since August 2.

Cañete responded that he was merely doing his ministerial duty. “I was essentially the on-call minister, the Cabinet Office sent me to accompany his majesty the king. It’s one of the jobs of a minister, to accompany the king on official acts. This minister doesn’t decide what to attend and what not to.”