A small rock in the Atlantic

All about the island of La Palma, in the Canaries.

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Saturday, 1 August 2009

Update on the Fire

Map of fire
The fire started at Tigalate, and the main area of concern is currently between Santa Cecilia and Jeday

Well I got one thing wrong in the last post. There was a light breeze here, but up on the ridge where they were fighting the fire, it was blowing a gale up to 65 km/h - exactly the worst sort of weather for fire-fighting.

However, I was right that the Princess Hotel and Cancajos are safe. In fact that's where they took the evacuees. About 100 are still in the Princess, and 115 in the army barracks at Cancajos. The rest are staying with friends and family.

So far, about 1,500 hectares have been burnt - mostly pine forest. If you were planning on walking or mountain biking in the south of the island - well it won't be so pretty (although it will recover). So far, the north of the island is fine.

And now the good news. The wind has dropped, and the weather forecast is for the temperatures to drop 10-15ÂșC within 24-48 hours. At the moment, they're trying to use the lava flows at Jeday and Pista de Los Cabritos as natural fire breaks, and to hold it there, or at least have a much smaller front to the fire. We now have helicopters from Tenerife and Gran Canaria helping out, and two planes are on their way from the mainland.

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Forest Fire on La Palma

A forest fire is blazing in the south of La Palma, on the boarders of Mazo and Fuencaliente. It started at 11 pm on Friday at Puente Roto. So far, nobody knows for certain what caused it, but the rumour is is that it was fireworks.

We've had hot weather caused by wind coming from the Sahara (calima) for weeks, and the hillsides are dry as a tinder box. It would take a pretty stupid person to let off fireworks at the moment. The only good bit is that the wind is pretty light and the army's been called in.

They've evacuated the villages of Los Canarios and Las Caletas in Fuencaliente, and Tigalate and Montes de la Luna in Mazo, some 4,000 people altogether.

Although the Princess hotel is in Fuencaliente, it's the other side of the ridge from the fire, and doesn't have forest near it anyway. Cancajos is also safe.

You don't need to cancel your holiday. But please, be very, very careful with cigarete butts and barbecues.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Going Bananas

banana tree, La Palma, Canary Islands

When I first came to La Palma in 1990, around 40% of the population depended on the banana trade: growing bananas, packing them, or driving them. But even with the EU subsidy, it's hard to make a living from bananas. If you're unlucky with the weather, you can work hard all year and still make a loss. So the economy is diversifying, and a good thing too. But bananas are still very important.

Bananas need a lot of water. Since La Palma is the wettest of the Canary Islands,it has the most irrigation water available, and the most banana plantations, particularly around Los Llanos.

Banana trees aren't trees. That is, they don't have a rigid trunk with annual rings. The "trunk" consists of concentric leaves, like a leek. They don't live all that long either. The plant grow one flower stalk and several side shoots. The farmer cuts off all but one of the side shoots, so that the one that's left grows better.

Another surprise: what I'd always called a bunch - you know, somewhere from 3 to 15 bananas - is technically a "hand". A bunch is a stalk full of hands. The variety of abananas grown here is a "giant dwarf" (yes, really!) so a bunch is maybe three feet long. And as you can see, the bananas grow upside down, curling up and away from the stalk.

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