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Wildfire threatens World Heritage site on Canary Islands

A wildfire on Spain's Canary Island of La Gomera is raging in the Garajonay national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rare subtropical forests are at risk of destruction.

The wildfire, which erupted on Saturday on the Canary Island of La Gomera, has affected 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land, including 350 hectares, or nine percent, of the Garajonay national park.

The park's subtropical forests, which gained it a World Heritage listing, are home to 450 plant species, including eight that are found nowhere else.

The deep ravines and canyons on La Gomera have made fighting the fire difficult.

"The ravines act as chimneys for the fire when the wind blows and this complicates the task of getting the fire under control, " the head of the islands' government, Paulino Rivero, told reporters.

He added that there were two main fires on the island, one in the north that had entered the national park, and another in the La Laja Ravine area. He said arson was suspected, as the fire had started in three different places.

Six hundred people were forced to leave their homes over the weekend.

Mayor Jaime Luis Noda said several homes near the town of Vallehermoso had been destroyed.

Another fire on the neighboring island of La Palma near the town of Mazo has been brought under control after affecting about 1,000 hectares.

Spain has seen a number of serious fires this summer both in the Canaries and on the mainland after a very dry winter.

One on July 22 in the northeast province of Catalonia burnt out 14,000 hectares and claimed four lives. Fires in the Valencia region in early July affected some 50,000 hectares.

tj/ccp (AFP, AP)