Spanish firefighters on Monday were battling a wildfire that raged for three days on the wooded slopes of La Palma in the Canary Islands, forcing the evacuation of more than 4,000 residents.
The fire, which Spanish authorities say has burned about 10,000 hectares, may be a preview of weather-related crises to come in Europe. The southern part of the continent is in the middle of a heat wave that is drying out fields, increasing the risk of wildfires. In Greece on Monday, fires southeast, west and north of the capital, Athens, led to the evacuation of more than 150 people, three summer camps and dozens of animals, authorities reported.
Local authorities said Monday that more favorable weather had helped firefighters slow the fire’s progress, allowing some residents to return to their homes. “The weather helped us,” Sergio Rodríguez, the president of the local government council in La Palma, said at a press conference on Monday.
More than 500 firefighters are trying to bring the flames under control, aided by several water-carrying helicopters that regularly circle the flames in an attempt to extinguish them.
The fire on La Palma, a small island in the Canaries archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, started in the early hours of Saturday in a wooded area full of houses. It quickly engulfed large swathes of hilly terrain, burning about 20 houses and buildings and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.
“First the people, then the houses and then extinguishing” the fire, Fernando Clavijo, the president of the regional government of the Canary Islands, told reporters on Saturday.
The wildfire is big enough satellite shots NASA footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the fire on the northwestern side of the island. Images shared by local security services showed white columns of smoke advancing over the island’s mountains.
Mr. Clavijo said the wildfire spread quickly because of “the wind, the climate conditions and the heat wave we are experiencing.”
Temperatures in the Canary Islands rose during the heat wave. Local authorities said the region had experienced below-average rainfall in recent years, as drought-stricken mainland Spain.
Spain’s weather agency has warned that the combination of drought and high temperatures is increasing the risk of forest fires, a phenomenon the country knows all too well.
Last summer, dozens of wildfires tore through Spain for days, displacing thousands of residents and consuming a record 750,000 hectares, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System.
Scientists are now worried about wildfires breaking out earlier in the year, as summer-like temperatures are more often recorded in the spring.
Spain’s first major wildfire of 2023 occurred in March. The following month, Spain experienced its hottest spring on record, with April temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in Andalusia.
Footage of the fires broadcast on Greek television showed wildfires reaching homes in the seaside resorts of Loutraki and Lagonisi, west and south of Athens. Fire service spokesman Yannis Artopios said crews would battle the fires from the air until the last light of day, with ground forces continuing their efforts throughout the night. He added that Tuesday promised to be a “very difficult day” with rising temperatures, dry conditions and enduring strong winds.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appealed to people to follow the instructions of the country’s civil protection authorities and evacuate affected areas, saying the priority was to save lives and compensate for losses.
“This is one of the consequences of the climate crisis in which we live, with greater intensity,” Mr. Mitsotakis said in a statement from Brussels where he attended a meeting of EU leaders. “Today is the first difficult day of this summer, and there will definitely be more,” he said, adding that the challenge is to stop the fires as soon as possible to limit the damage.
Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.