The terrible fire that devastated the island of Tenerife this summer fully affected the municipality of La Victoria. The neighborhoods of La Vera, Los Arroyos and La Resbala had to be evacuated. Around 700 people initially. Following the decision of the Government of the Canary Islands to expand the perimeter, the number of evacuees rose to 2,000. The sports hall, the day center and the residence were the shelters established within the municipal emergency plan itself. The mayor of La Victoria is Juan Antonio García Abreu.
How does a mayor experience a tragedy like this?
The situation was quite tense. The fact of having lived in 2020 as a field hospital for the urban fire of the Santa Úrsula fire, in which we received evacuees from the neighboring municipality, already gave us practical background of what should be done in this type of fires. . In the municipality, there is an emergency plan that gave us guidelines for the steps to take when evacuating, what routes to use and establishing for each of those responsible the powers that correspond to them so that there is a clear and an order when making decisions and informing citizens.
Two thousand evacuees is not an easy figure to handle…
In reality there were almost 2,700 evacuees. One of the municipalities with the highest number of evictions of the 13 affected by the fire. Thanks to the emergency plan document, we quickly moved to the sports pavilion and the day center-senior residence. It is also true that, of that number, many went to stay with relatives and others to second homes. At first we were talking about over 700 and over the days they were significantly reduced.
How do La Victoria and its citizens recover from this blow?
Without a doubt it has been a very hard blow, we had not experienced this situation before, and for me it has been the most complicated political situation that I have had to experience. The municipality experienced a large fire in 1995, but nothing compared to the dimensions of this one in August. For us it is very impressive because La Victoria is intertwined with our mountain. It is part of our daily life, there are many people who spend many hours in the highlands, where they have land, animals, agriculture… All of this has led us to experience it with great sadness but, now, seeing that some rains have arrived and are To allow us to begin to see the Canarian pine greening, we regain hope again.
How many hectares were burned in the municipality?
Grafcan reads 1025, there are other data that speak of 823. There is a certain discrepancy between official numbers and those provided by Grafcan but in the 1995 fire 700 hectares were burned… We are from time to time seeing that our green lung is burning. We must find solutions so that these situations that we are going to see more and more frequently with climate change can be stopped and we can operate to try to reduce the number of hectares.
What type of actions are established for the population to know how to act at all times?
These are measures that are established by the person responsible for the fire, depending on the level and competencies. What does exist is an obligation to coordinate to establish joint lines of action. In this last case, we were asked to close all forest trails. There is nothing in the emergency plan beyond evacuation documents, the meeting places, the risks that the population may suffer, how they should respond to official means to avoid uncertainty and be attentive to the indications set by the competent body. Without going any further, during the fire of ’95 the regulations allowed a second line of action to be taken to cool off, the current regulations do not allow it, so what is up to us is to inform and reassure the population.
This task of reassuring the population must not be easy, especially when they do not know why certain decisions are made, they do not see the helicopters, they do not know if they are acting…
Indeed. We had a very bad time because we demanded from the institutions the presence of the helicopters for two reasons: first to refresh areas that perhaps would have prevented the advance of the fire. We saw how, having the raft in San Antonio, the helicopters went to other municipalities, this situation generated some irritation among the citizens. So the second reason is that it is necessary for the neighbors to see the actions and inform the mayors to reassure the population with data, so that they know that there were media attending La Victoria. In the end, when there is a community gathered and evacuated, nervousness becomes generalized nervousness, so we had to try to explain what was happening so that the citizen understood that nothing was being hidden from them.
And yet, in the end the fire went out, there were no victims…
And that is why I have to reiterate our deep gratitude for all the people who worked day after day to reduce and control the fire. And also to the volunteering part, which had great sensitivity, including the neighbors who went out of their way to help others. It is the good part that we have left of all this, society came to the evacuation zone to show solidarity and help neighbors. These are things that I think make our town great, when nurses and doctors are mobilized, blankets, water and food are brought, pets are taken care of… It’s the best thing that can be said when one tries to get something positive out of this natural drama.