By Nacho Doce
TENERIFE, Canary Islands, Spain (Reuters) -Firefighters on Monday battled to stabilise a huge wildfire that has devastated forests on the Spanish island of Tenerife for six days as authorities recommended citizens to stay indoors to protect themselves from the poor air quality.
The fire that started last Tuesday night has so far ravaged some 12,800 hectares of woodland within the national park surrounding the Teide volcano, Spain’s highest peak, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Efforts to extinguish it have been hampered by the difficult terrain – made up of steep ravines and cliffs – and a recent heatwave leaving the pine forest bone dry.
“The worst is behind us,” the Canary Islands’ regional leader Fernando Clavijo said on Monday morning on Cadena SER radio station.
“Today, we will keep on working, consolidating perimeters. We cannot talk about control yet, we’ll see if we can stabilise all the fronts,” he added.
A stabilized fire has no active fronts that allow the fire to advance freely, although it is not under control.
Emergency services recommended residents in the area around the fire, which includes the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, to close windows and to stay indoors. It recommended wearing face masks if they need to go outside, as the air quality was “very unfavourable” due to smoke.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the area on Monday morning to express solidarity with those affected.
“The next few hours are going to be very important, let’s hope that the weather helps us so that we can consider the fire stabilised in the next few hours or days,” he told reporters.
The government will declare the area affected by fire a disaster zone, Sanchez added, allowing state aid to be freed up.
Authorities on Sunday allowed some of the 12,000 people evacuated from the villages of Arafo and Candelaria to return to their homes and the remaining evacuees could receive more good news on Monday, Clavijo said.
Clavijo added the fire was almost certainly man-made and said police were investigating to identify and capture the arsonists.
Meanwhile, national weather agency AEMET said a new heatwave would sweep over mainland Spain on Monday, further heightening the risk of wildfires there.
However, AEMET said there was a chance Tenerife would see some rainfall later on Monday.
Popular tourist areas on Tenerife, part of the Canaries archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, have so far been unaffected and its two airports have been operating normally.
(Reporting by Nacho Doce, additional reporting by Emma Pinedo, Writing by Inti Landauro, Editing by David Latona and Sharon Singleton)