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Tenerife hit by worst fire in the Canary Islands in 40 years

On 15 August 2023 a massive forest fire started in Tenerife, causing widespread damage to the island’s ecosystem including some areas of vineyard.

The fire started at the Lomo Redondo viewpoint at 1,225m in altitude, within the municipality of Arafo. During the investigation, authorities have found not only the origin but also suspect it was started intentionally as an act of arson.

While now controlled, the fire continues to burn over a month after it began.

To date, over 15,000ha of forest have burned across the Mount Teide peak of the island. The intensity and size of the fire was fuelled by strong winds, heat, and very low humidity. It has already been registered as the worst fire in the Canary Islands in the last 40 years and the worst in all of Spain for 2023.

While there have been no human fatalities, the damage to the wilderness and ecosystem at this altitude has been incalculable as this is a unique zone that, due to its altitude, allows specific vegetation and animal life that isn’t possible in the lower, tropical zones of Tenerife. These altitudes are also where a great many vineyards are cultivated.

Unlike the 2021 fires on the island of La Palma due to a volcanic eruption and which viticulturists are still working to recover from, this is a rather remote region in Tenerife that didn’t immediately threaten built-up areas, although more than 26,000 residents were told to evacuate as a precaution.

Those with vineyards in the area could do little more than watch at firefighters battled the blaze. Worry grew a great deal once the fire jumped the Cordillera Dorsal, a 25km ridge that bifurcates Tenerife and therefore allowed the fire to spread to the northern side of the island.

With five Denominations of Origin (DOs), Tenerife has the most on it within the Canary Islands and there are two that cover the region of the fire: Tacoronte-Acentejo and Valle de Güímar.

Administrators at Tacoronte-Acentejo told Decanter they’d thankfully been spared any damage from the fire as it had largely been contained to the far upper reaches of the Teide peak where no one has any vineyards.

For Valle de Güímar, it’s a somewhat different story. DO secretary, Oscar Rodríguez García, initially told Decanter that they had been waiting to get access to the affected areas.

Ultimately, they found that 2ha of vines had been burned. The owner is a viticulturist who sells the grapes to one of the larger producers on the island. Many other vineyard owners had extremely close calls given that the flames came within 50m of their vines. The vineyards were spared given that they have been found to be natural firebreaks.

While the level of loss given the scope and intensity of the fire may seem low, smoke from the fire drifted eastward, covering a great deal of the Valle de Güimar territory and when asked about possible smoke taint issues by Decanter, Rodríguez García confirmed that 64ha could potentially be affected and that they were carrying out analyses to understand the scope of the issues. Wineries in the neighbouring DO Valle de la Orotava have also commented that they are potentially concerned about the smoke and ash drift.

As has been seen around the world in recent years, smoke taint, more than the fires themselves, is often one of the long-lasting issues brought about by climate change-provoked wildfires.

In addition to the issues of burned vineyards and smoke taint, the fire, in combination with the extreme climactic conditions of 2023 in Spain, has advanced the harvest on Tenerife. Normally, it begins at the end of August or beginning of September, but this year saw harvest start at the end of July, which was accelerated considerably once the fire broke out in mid-August.

While the fire on Tenerife will undoubtedly be fully extinguished in the near future, it, along with countless other fires across the globe this year, such as those in Greece and Italy, is testament to a quickly-changing world.

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