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Thousands flee blazing Canaries

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 12,000 evacuated as forest fires devastate Canary Islands
  • Fires raze 35,000 hectares on holiday hotspots of Gran Canaria and Tenerife
  • Spain's Environment Minister says situation "very alarming"
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MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- Forest fires have razed 35,000 hectares on Spain's Canary Islands, just as the tourist season reaches its peak, forcing the evacuation of more than 12,000 people, the island government said on Tuesday.

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Forest fires have devastated areas of Gran Canaria.

Summer temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) have been exacerbated by strong winds, laying waste to large mountainous and pinewood areas and forcing the closure of several motorways on the biggest island, Tenerife.

Some local media estimated that the number of people forced to leave their homes was as high as 13,500 since Sunday but official figures on the Canaries government Web site put the number at 12,000. Details on how many tourists were affected were not available.

As emergency services battled with blazes on the islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Gomera, Spain's Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said the situation was "very alarming", promising more fire-fighting planes would be sent to the islands.

"This morning the wind dropped a little and so did the temperature. Although the situation is still very complicated we hope ... it may get a little better," Paulino Rivero, head of the Canary Islands' government, told reporters.

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A judge on Monday ordered that a forest ranger who admitted to starting the original fire on Gran Canaria be held in solitary confinement. He had been angry over his work contract, the archipelago's supreme court said.

Fires burned an average 140,000 hectares of land a year in Spain from 1990 to 2004, but they have become more frequent in recent years and many of them are started deliberately. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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