The fire that affects the Corona Forestal de Tenerife still out of control and in a critical situation. Authorities and technicians admit the enormous complexity of stopping the flames on all sides of a very dynamic fire that has forced the operation to adopt a defensive strategy. The problems are due to the steep orography of the terrain – which makes some areas inaccessible to brigades -, the presence of scattered population centers, the lack of visibility due to the enormous columns of smoke and ash, and the large amount of fuel accumulated by the three heat waves this summer and the drought.
In this way, the hectares burned, the perimeter of the flames, the municipalities affected and the people evacuated or confined continue to grow. According to the data provided last night, at 10:30 p.m., by Fernando Clavijo, president of the Canary Islands Government, and Rosa Dávila, his counterpart from the Council of Tenerife, 3,273 hectares of pine forests have already burned in at least 8 municipalities on the island: Candelaria, Arafo, El Rosario, La Orotava, Santa Úrsula, La Victoria, El Sauzal and Tacoronte – the precise data on the hectares by municipality is in the table right -. It is pending confirmation if the fire has reached La Matanza, where evacuations have been ordered as a precaution.
In total, the fire has forced the evacuation of 3,069 people and the confinement of 3,820 people to their homes due to poor air quality as a result of smoke and ash. In other words, the global number of those affected at the close of this edition amounted to 6,889. Of all the evicted, 111 are found in the three exceptionally equipped shelters in Arafo, El Rosario and La Orotava. The latest evacuations occurred yesterday afternoon on the northern slope, mainly in the town of Orotava.
The fire spreads along a perimeter of 41 kilometers in the Forest Crown, the green belt that protects the Teide National Park. All the flanks are concerned, advancing at a greater or lesser speed, but they are advancing. More than 260 members of the fire brigades, with the logistical and security support of another 150 effects and 18 aerial means -15 helicopters and three seaplanes-, fight against the flames in the Arafo and Candelaria heights on the southern flank, and in La Orotava, El Rosario, Santa Úrsula, La Victoria, El Sauzal and Tacoronte on the northern flank.
Added to the impossibility of managing the fire is now the poor air quality. He Government of the Canary Islands today it will deploy gauges on the different fronts to determine whether to maintain the lockdowns or extend them. In the next few hours, the winds will continue to blow towards Santa Cruz and La Laguna, so the presence of dense clouds of smoke and the fall of abundant ash will continue in these municipalities and those of Arafo, Candelaria, Güímar and El Rosario.
A “unique” fire…
The fire that affects the Forest Crown has characteristics that make it “unique” in the history of the Islands. This was stated yesterday by the meteorologist Victoria Palma, adviser to the Tenerife Council. “In Canary Islands A fire like this had not been seen with 34 hours of a smoke column with such a potential that it has reached more than 6 kilometers even at night, when the flames usually descend. And it is that the fire, according to the expert, “is creating its own meteorology, with a potential that the paveseo shows”, that is, the impact of pieces of incandescent or smoking plant material that generate new secondary sources.
… and more visible than ever due to the ash rain
Another factor that differentiates this fire from others that have occurred in the Canary Islands is the intense rain of ash, which falls in the municipalities that are in the direction of the wind: Arafo, Candelaria, Santa Cruz, El Rosario and La Laguna. They are charred remains of pine bark or needles displaced by the columns of smoke, among which in some specific cases insect remains have appeared. This particularity and the great smoke, visible throughout the Island, have given more spectacularity to a fire in which the calls can exceed 50 meters.
Why has the spread been so deadly if there have been no strong winds?
The components of the fire brigades deployed in Tenerife agree on the ferocity of the flames and their rapid spread in weather conditions that are not so adverse due to the absence of strong wind, the main friend of fire. Pascual Gil, who was director of forest firefighting for more than 20 years, mainly in Tenerife but also in The Palm, The iron and La Gomeraexplains it this way: «I have contacted colleagues from the Brifor (fire prevention and extinction operation) and they have all told me the same thing: This is impossible. Everything we do doesn’t matter to the fire. He skips everything. Burns, lines, roads… Everything. Nothing works.”
Gil, who is currently the director-curator of the Timanfaya National Parkin Lanzarote, continues explaining that “in 2009 I wrote the article Fire is like a tsunami for the press and it is perfectly valid for the fire these days in Tenerife, only this time it is not dominated by the wind, but by the topography”. «The area that is burning is one of the steepest in the Canary Islands, with slopes that are often vertical, where when a cup burns the flames heat and inflame those higher up, and even deflagrations occur when the fuel that is up the slope it is so hot that it burns spontaneously without the flames reaching it. We have seen images of llamas that are twice the height of pine trees and those pine trees often reach 30 meters. There are no human means that can stop it in these circumstances and the water from the aerial means evaporates before reaching the ground. The steepness of the terrain and the lack of access means that there are no safe escape routes for the combatants who these days, once again, are risking their lives to try to contain the fire.
The worst fires in the Canary Islands, according to the expert, “occur at the end of summer, after episodes of southern and continental Saharan weather, which leave the entire forest parched and withered, tinder ready to burn. Although on the coast there is a cool breeze and temperatures of 20 degrees, at the top it is very different: the air is hot and dry. Up there, above the trade wind, the fire has created its own meteorology that feeds back, to spread it, so that it runs fast, since this is the survival strategy of the Canary Islands pine forest and, in turn, the difficulty of the fire operation. Pascual Gil concludes by sending a message of encouragement to the brigades: «The situation is tough, very tough, but even so I want to send a message of hope to the population of Tenerife. The people who are working there are some of the best professionals in the world. They have already experienced very complicated situations and they will do everything that is possible today to stop the advance of the fire.
Closure of access to Teide
The Cabildo de Tenerife closed the entrances to the Teide National Park yesterday afternoon to facilitate the extinction work. The accesses through the TF-24 (La Esperanza) and the TF-21 (via La Orotava) were already closed and yesterday those from the South of the TF-21 (Vilaflor) and the TF-38 (Chío, Guide of Isora). Several lines of the buses public of Titsa. The service of line 348 that runs from the Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide to the municipality of Puerto de la Cruz has been suspended. In addition, lines 342 from Costa Adeje have been affected, which will only reach the municipality of Vilaflor, and lines 345 and 346, which will only reach the Casa Forestal stop and return to the municipalities of La Orotava and Puerto de la Cross.
The fire has caused a mobilization of professionals and volunteers to rescue, relocate and care for more than a thousand animals. The Canarian Equestrian Federation, the Association of Veterinarians and different protectors are coordinating the administrations to attend to the emergency. There are more than 1,500 horses, goats, dogs, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep or cats that have been rescued and relocated to private properties, public centers and association facilities scattered around the Island.
Notice for air quality
The Government of the Canary Islands warns of unfavorable air quality in the municipalities of Güímar, Arafo, Candelaria and El Rosario due to the smoke from the forest fire, made up of a mixture of gases and small particles that are emitted by the combustion of vegetation and other materials. The Government recommends that the affected population avoid staying abroad and carrying out intense or prolonged physical activities. It also advises closing doors and windows and if you have air conditioning, put it in recirculation mode and with clean filters. Outside, the use of an FFP2 mask is recommended to avoid respiratory problems, and to protect the eyes, washing them if necessary.