MADRID (AP) — The wind dropped in the Canary Islands Tuesday, allowing firefighters to make progress against Spain's biggest wildfire so far this year, raising hopes it might be contained within two days and that evacuated residents may soon be able to return home.
Canary Islands President Ángel Víctor Torres said 16 water-dropping aircraft took off at first light amid "a lot more favorable" weather conditions than the previous day. More than 12,000 hectares (46,000 square miles) have been charred on the western slopes of Gran Canaria, an island off northwestern Africa. No injuries have been reported.
The defense minister in Spain's caretaker government, Margarita Robles, said on a visit to the island that the blaze may be contained within 48 hours if weather conditions don't worsen. She described the huge fire as "terrifying." Almost 400 of the about 1,000 people working to control the flames are soldiers.
Torres, the region's president, said he hoped that some of the around 10,000, mostly local, people evacuated from the area could begin returning home Tuesday, while two dozen roads closed due to the fire were expected to reopen.
"I think we may be moving into the final phase of this wildfire," Gran Canaria emergency chief Federico Grillo told local broadcaster Televisión Canaria. Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canary Islands archipelago. About 50 kilometers (31 miles) in diameter, Gran Canaria has a population of 850,000 and is a popular vacation destination for Europeans and others. Most holiday resorts are on the coast, while the blaze has raced through mostly rural inland areas.
Emergency services struggled Monday to contain the fire amid gusting winds and summer temperatures around 36 degrees Celsius (nearly 97 degrees Fahrenheit). The blaze started Saturday afternoon; the cause is under investigation.
The Spanish caretaker government's farm minister, Luis Planas, said the wildfire was "like a tsunami" on Monday, when more than a million metric tons of water were used against it. About 100 of the more-than 600 people evacuated from Galdar, in the northwest of Gran Canaria, were staying at the hillside town's Fernando Guanarteme boarding school. Some had been there since Saturday.
Local rancher Benito Mendoza Rivero said the blaze was devastating. "There won't even be a lizard left" once the flames have passed, he told Gran Canaria newspaper La Provincia. He said he was especially concerned about his dog, which he had left tied up at home, and authorities wouldn't let him go back to check on it.
Fernando Moreno was anxious about his farm animals, which he released to fend for themselves before he was taken to the school. He was angry at what he perceived as the authorities' lack of preparedness for a major wildfire, and said water-dumping aircraft were wasting their time. "With this heat, the water falls and evaporates right away," he told La Provincia.
Another local, Teodora Sosa, described the fiery landscape as "Dantesque", though from what she could tell from a distance the flames had spared many houses, she said. "But we'll have to check whether that's really the case," she added. "And there are lots of isolated houses we can't see."