Experts are warning that the ongoing Tenerife blaze is merely a precursor to a growing and unprecedented threat of a series of mega-fires erupting simultaneously across the Canary Islands. According to a manifesto from Profor Canarias, an organisation representing over 5,000 professionals in sectors such as forestry, agriculture, and veterinary science, the archipelago has become “a ticking time bomb” susceptible to catastrophic wildfires, with the “worst yet to unfold.”
This escalating risk, they argue, necessitates “a shift in land management to better protect biodiversity” rather than just deploying more aerial resources. They caution that the islands, some of which are heavily populated like Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and La Palma, present the “ideal conditions” for increasingly frequent and severe forest fires that could evolve into mega-fires, causing unparalleled damage to communities and infrastructure.
These experts highlight that conditions have worsened since the devastating Gran Canaria fires four years ago, stating, “Regrettably, time has vindicated our warnings.” During that incident in August 2019, a wildfire covering 9,500 hectares imperiled more than 9,000 people and their homes in Gran Canaria. In the still-unresolved Tenerife fire, nearly 15,000 hectares have burned, threatening over 12,000 residences. They emphasise the need for urgent and thorough action, warning that the Canary Islands have yet to confront the “most disastrous of possibilities.”
They also point to the current Tenerife fire as a case in point—while weather conditions were far from optimal, they could have been even more severe, with stronger winds accelerating the fire’s spread. They note the blaze consumed almost 15,000 hectares in roughly five to six days, compared to the significant Tenerife fire of 2007 that consumed the same area in only three days due to easterly winds exceeding 70 km/h.
Canary Islands: a risk of “multiple simultaneous fires”
Moreover, they bring up the alarming potential for “concurrent fires” within Tenerife, other islands, or even nationally, which would have drained the available firefighting resources.
To prevent such catastrophic events in the future, they propose a transformation of the current territorial model. They advocate for “fire-extinguishable landscapes,” specifically mosaic landscapes where various land uses intermingle to limit the amount of “flammable material.” In their view, sustainable agriculture and extensive livestock farming are vital components and should be both maintained and revitalised.