Bringing relief to people affected by wildfires on Canary Islands

Published: 15 August 2012 18:45 CET

By Giovanni Zambello

Staff and volunteers of the Spanish Red Cross have been working around the clock to tackle the humanitarian consequences of the forest fires that have been ravaging part of rare nature wildlife reserve on Spain’s Canary Island of La Gomera since last Friday. The fires have forced the some 5,000 people - almost a quarter of the population of the island - from their homes. Since 10 August, the municipalities of Alajeró, Vallehermoso, San Sebastián de la Gomera and Valle Gran Rey have been affected by the fires.

Since the first fire broke out more than a week ago, and spread rapidly across the island, the Spanish Red Cross has carried out 27 health support interventions and mobilized over 60 volunteers and staff – including psychologists, social workers, socio-cultural operators, IT technicians and teachers. It has also distributed basic necessities to support the people accommodated in shelters.

As the alarm was raised, the National Society’s Rapid Emergency Response Team (ERIE) received a request to provide support to the disaster response operations of the Government of the Canary Islands.

The Spanish Red Cross augmented government efforts covering the basic needs of over 200 people in temporary shelters in San Sebastián de La Gomera, and Valle Gran Rey. Two ambulances, two loading trucks and 150 beds for the area of Valle Gran Rey were also deployed. In San Sebastián de La Gomera a 15-seat vehicle, two trucks, one ambulance, 223 beds, 540 hygiene kits, water, 3,126 blankets, and 252 clothing kits have been provided so far.

The organization was also able to distribute cookies, bread, sugar, pastries, sausages, milk, water, juices, canned fruit, different cleaning materials, toilet paper, napkins, plates and cutlery with support from the Carrefour Foundation.

Cooler temperatures in the last hours seem to be aiding the response operations to the devastating fires which have so far burnt over 30 square kilometres. Some people are now able to return to their houses.

Miguel Ángel Sánchez Arocha, Head of Operations of the Spanish Red Cross for the emergency in La Gomora, said he hoped things would soon get back to normal. “Today is an important day, because - pending the authorisation of local authorities of the island - people displaced by the fires in San Sebastián de la Gomera might be able to start going back to their homes,” he said.

“In Valle Gran Rey, in collaboration with local authorities, we are extending our psychosocial support activities in favour of people who suffered burns and have already returned home, while facilitating the process of return of those who are still accommodated in our shelters.”