Wildfire Gran Canaria

The wildfire in Gran Canaria last weekend.

19-08-2019Elvira Urquijo A. - cgf - EFE -

I would like to dedicate these words to the people of Gran Canaria who have experienced two devastating wildfires over the past weeks causing unrepairable damage to their island. Having spent much time in Gran Canaria as we also operate in that area it is sad to receive a call from our local manager informing about the terrible news that four of our team members cannot attend work because they have been isolated by the fire and have lost part of their land.

While the causes of the wildfire in Gran Canaria have not yet been cleared, conclusions can be drawn that it is an ecological tragedy. The fire that started last Saturday afternoon has burned uncontrollably for over four days affecting 8 municipalities and burning through forests, towns and protected areas extending over 10,000 hectares and forcing the evacuation of more than 9,000 people. Fortunately, no human lives have been lost even though some houses have been reduced to ashes but the natural heritage that has been devastated is incalculable and will take decades to recover. Firefighting forces have been brought in from all over the country in order to help contain this natural disaster. The current high temperatures, strong winds and limited accessibility have made the extinguishing task extremely complicated and dangerous.

For most of us the geography of Gran Canaria is unknown. To many it is another popular holiday destination with sunny days and moderate temperatures throughout the year and high-quality tourist resorts especially in the south. Gran Canaria is often referred to as the miniature continent as its geography and climate are so contrasted within its small surface. The island is smaller in size compared to Majorca and the mountains are in the centre.

The constant trade winds coming in from the Atlantic Ocean collide with the mountains creating two very differentiated climate zones. The northern side, under the direct influence of this fresh and humid wind, allows the island to be cooler and damper and therefore much greener presenting thick lush forests that rise within the abrupt and spectacular volcanic landscape.

The south of the island is blocked from this wind by the mountains, so the climate is sunny and warm presenting little variation between seasons. It is said that the Canary Islands, located in a sub-tropical latitude, are blessed by the eternal spring. Visiting the north and centre of the island is recommendable as the scenery is breath-taking. Typical towns are meticulously kept and transmit the cheerful and open attitude of the Canarios but the natural wonders of ancient volcanic formations that are hidden under magnificent specimens of Pino Canario, Canarian pine tree need to be seen. Forests are brilliant green and have an added tropical feel as they are dotted with palms and other autochthonous vegetation and wildlife.

Studying a bit of history, one finds that forests had once covered most of the island, but the introduction of farming and industrial development drastically reduced this surface placing it at its minimum over the last 50 years. Wildfires, the last great fire back in 2007, have dramatically reduced this surface once again and it is now of vast importance that this space is recovered to ensure the natural equilibrium and evolution of the local eco-system. On a positive note, the peculiarity of the Pino Canario is that its bark is fire resistant meaning that the tree burns but the core stays alive and after some time the branches and foliage will grow back. This is not only important to recover the vegetation but also to avoid erosion as the roots hold together the soil on which the new forest must re-grow.

What is admirable and must be highlighted is the solidarity that citizens have shown towards firefighting teams in this case of extreme environmental disaster but why does it need a catastrophe of this magnitude for people to take part in the action when we are all currently facing a global environmental crisis that needs the attention of big and small to save the planet?

In Majorca, we have just passed what I call the equator of the season and we can already begin to make balance of results, not only economic but also of the impact on the environment. The severe lack of rain over the past 8 months places our forests at extreme high risk of wildfire so all precautions must be taken to avoid a similar catastrophe as the one lived in Gran Canaria this past week.

I drove through the mountains just a few days ago and saw the dryness of the sides of the road and forest under growth and yet not much action is taken to prevent any major disaster. Politicians are more concerned about arguing on whether it is or not environmentally friendly to remove seaweed from beaches that does not poise any risks except aesthetic and accessibility problems for bathers than concerned about our dry forests.

Pay attention to the government billboards in 4 languages that alert of the high risk of fire as this is the most visible action that has been carried out towards this matter and lets pray to the gods for some well fallen rain in the next coming weeks!

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