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Temperature drop helps Spanish island battle fires

LOWER temperatures yesterday helped firefighters battle two forest fires that have raged on La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands for three days.

One fire in the west of the island has been brought under control and it was hoped another in the east could be contained later Monday, island environmental director Julio Cabrera said.

La Palma is one of the least developed and most verdant of the Canary Islands, off West Africa, and was celebrated by pop star Madonna in her song "La Isla Bonita," the title of which is the island's local name.

Cabrera said overnight efforts to extinguish the blazes were helped by a temperature drop of about 20 degrees C (36 degrees F) from the near 45 C (113 F) temperatures when the fires started late Friday. Strong winds have also eased, he said.

The change in weather had even brought some brief spells of rain.

The fires were mainly affecting areas above the towns of Tigalate and Tiguerorte on the southeastern side of La Palma, the island's government said.

No town or village was directly threatened by the fires and no new evacuations were planned, Cabrera said. Around 4,000 people were evacuated in southeastern areas Saturday and about 50 houses were burned. Spanish national television said many residents were able to return to their homes Sunday.

About 600 firefighters were involved in trying to put out the fires, aided by nine water-dropping aircraft, Cabrera said.

Several small wineries and vineyards that produced Canary wine have been lost to the flames, said local winemaker Jose Alberto Morales. One winery lost its centuries-old wood press to fire.

Canary wine, known since William Shakespeare's time as "Canary Sack" - the playwright mentions it in "Merry Wives of Windsor" - is normally a treacle-sweet white made from Malvasia vines grown on the island's highly prized volcanic soils.

"The fire came right up to our rooftop, but miraculously our winery didn't burn down. But our old vineyards on the hillside just behind the building have all been burned. We'll have to prune hard to see if they'll recover from the roots," said Morales, of Bodegas Carballo winery in Fuencaliente.

Officials estimate the fires have scorched an estimated 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of woodland.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited the island Sunday and the government has pledged financial aid for those affected.

Forest fires have killed at least nine people in fire-related incidents and burned about 75,000 hectares (185,000 acres) of wood and scrubland in Spain so far this year, more than double the amount burnt in the whole of 2008.


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