canary islands wildfires
Fires are raging across Gomera and Tenerfie (Reuters) Reuters

Wildfires raging across two Canary Islands have prompted a mass evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists from 18 towns and villages.

Five thousand people have fled to safety in La Gomera and Tenerife as fires took hold and threatened some of Spain's most precious national parks.

Concerns have been raised that at least one of the fires was started deliberately. The area threatened on Gomera, the smallest in the Canaries archipelago, includes ancient woodlands recognised as a Unesco world heritage site.

Regional official Nancy Melo said the fire was suspicious. "It had two focal points 3km apart that began burning vigorously within a short space of time from each other," she said.

Firefighters were struggling to contain the blaze, a government spokesman admitted.

"We are living through hell. We have asked the central government for more resources to fight the fire," said local government leader Casimimo Curbelo.

British tourists in Gomera and Tenerife were urged to maintain contact with the Foreign Office and monitor the situation as it develops.

Armenia Mendoza, a wine producer who was one of the first people to report the fire, told AP that the Gomera blaze was destroying Garajonay National Park, where woodlands date back to the tertiary age, 11 million years ago. The area was declared a world heritage site by the UN cultural agency in 1986.

"We are heartbroken. We feel we have lost our beautiful, irreplaceable island," said Mendoza. He said it was "almost unthinkable" that a native islander would have lit the fire on purpose".

Temperatures as high as the low 40s have been boosted by a heatwave rolling in from north Africa, which follows an especially dry winter. Much of the Canary Islands have been transformed into a tinderbox.

Fires which broke out a week ago were believed to have been brought under control by water-carrying aircraft butr high temperaturesa and strong, dry winds caused them to flare up again.

As many as 10 fires were being fought across mainland Spain, with flames threatening the Cabbaneros National Park, considered to be the largest surviving area of Iberian Mediterranean forest and home to several endangered species.

The agriculture ministry confirmed that more than 130,830 hectares of vegetation has been destroyed by fires throughout Spain since the start of the year.

canary islands wildfires
The wildfires have decimated the landscape (Reuters) Reuters