A forest fire on the Canaries' biosphere island of La Palma has killed a ranger, scorched 3,000 hectares, and forced evacuations of 2,300 residents. It's been blamed on a German visitor who burned soiled toilet paper.
Authorities on the Spain's Canary Islands said Friday 200 fire fighters, aided by eight water-carrying helicopters and three water-dumping planes, were trying to extinguish the blaze on La Palma.
Columns of smoke rose from the rugged island, the most northwestern in Spain's Atlantic archipelago, off the coast of western Africa.
Spain's UGT trade union said the 54-year-old ranger leaves behind a wife and five children. He died when trapped by flames on Wednesday evening while trying to fight the blaze.
"It's like hell," an elderly resident told Spanish RTVE television, close to tears on Friday as the blaze spread through pineal forest toward Cumbre Vieja Nature Park.
'Drop-out' light toilet paper
Guardia Civil police said a 27-year-old German man, identified by Spanish media as a drop-out who lived in a cave, had told officers that he "accidentally provoked the blaze when he defecated … and set fire to the toilet paper he (had) used."
The suspect was due to appear before a local court on a charge of negligence.
The volcanic island, known for its rich central mountain vegetation, was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2002. It was endangered by fire in 2012.
Regional government head Fernando Clavijo said a mix of strong winds, low humidity, air temperatures around 35 degrees and parched vegetation had exacerbated the situation.
"It's not going to be easy," Clavijo said, adding that quelling the blaze could take days.
More safeguards, says WWF
Lourdes Hernandez, a wildfire expert with the environmental protection organization WWF, told the newspaper "El Mundo" that Spain should do more to minimize the risk of such fires.
"Eight percent of the funds are spent on firefighting and only 20 percent on prevention. That is wrong," she said.
ipj/kl (AFP, AP, dpa)