At least 2,500 people evacuated as Canary Islands blaze spreads

Park ranger killed on Wednesday; authorities say German man arrested after setting fire to toilet paper in woodland

Residents of El Paso were evacuated on Wednesday.
Residents of El Paso were evacuated on Wednesday.Miguel Ángel Pérez Calero (EFE)

Around 2,500 people have been evacuated from their homes on the Canary island of La Palma as a fire that started on Wednesday is driven by high winds across dry woodland.

On Thursday, a park ranger died while fighting the blaze, which police say was started by a 27-year-old German national who admitted he set fire to toilet paper after defecating in woodland. A resident of La Palma, his neighbors had reported him to the police on several occasions for petty theft.

Some 700 people were initially evacuated from areas near the blaze on Wednesday, which is sweeping through wooded, mountainous area near the community of El Paso on the southern coast of La Palma, one of the lesser-known, unspoiled islands of the Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa. Some 2,000 hectares of forest has so far been destroyed.

“The fire has not come under control yet,” Fernando Clavijo, regional president of the Canaries, told reporters on Thursday night, adding: “The situation may get more difficult throughout the night. It’s not going to be easy.”

The ranger, Francisco José Santana, died while working to put out the flames, said Spain’s UGT union of which the 54-year-old was a member. A father of five, he held a degree in law and worked for Iberia before becoming a park ranger. He had 20 years' experience putting out fires.

A spokesman for the Civil Guard said a 27-year-old German man was arrested on Wednesday afternoon, suspected of having started the fire. The man, whose identity has not been revealed, told officers he accidentally provoked the blaze when he defecated, “and set fire to the toilet paper he used for that,” the Civil Guard said in a statement.

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English version by Nick Lyne.


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