Anguish, anger as Tenerife evacuees can’t see homes beyond smoke

By Borja Suarez

TENERIFE, Canary Islands, Spain (Reuters) – Residents of the Spanish island of Tenerife watched in desperation on Friday as fire and smoke enveloped the verdant mountains a day after authorities ordered thousands of villagers to evacuate.

Vanesa Hernandez, 42, was forced to abandon her land in the village of Aguamansa and move to the town of Orotava further down the mountain. Neighbours helped her lead her horses, ponies and chickens to safety.

“Our lives are left there… We are helpless, we don’t know what’s going to happen to us and to our houses, to the people in general, and we don’t have words to describe the feeling of injustice,” she told Reuters, holding back tears.

Authorities said on Friday that containment efforts and more favourable weather had slowed the spread of the blaze, but that was little consolation for Hernandez.

“It’s the lungs of our island and now we have a bald mountain,” she said, blaming a lack of preventative action by authorities.

Experts have pointed to the abandonment of rural land and accumulation of combustible material in the forests as a key factor along with rising temperatures.

“Before, they (authorities) used to call people and they would let us clean up (the forest)… The saddest thing is it could have been avoided,” Hernandez added.

The wildfire broke out on Wednesday in a mountainous national park around the Mount Teide volcano – Spain’s highest peak – and has burned through nearly 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of vegetation, although no houses have been destroyed.

Pablo Pacheco, 54, praised the firefighters and emergency services for preventing the flames from reaching his house.

“I thought it would all burn,” he said. “It was an inferno all night long because it was too many kilometres of fire. I’ve seen fires over the years, but this is the most horrendous thing I’ve ever seen.”

Another evacuee, Elena Caballo, 50, cried as she remembered the beautiful mountain view.

“Right now you can’t see it because of the smoke, but I imagine it’s all burnt down by now. It’s a shame,” she said.

(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Hugh Lawson)