An electrical supply cable in contact with a large Canary Island pine tree is thought to have caused the raging fire that burned more than 10,000 hectares in August on the island of Gran Canaria, according to researchers’ first conclusions. That tree, located on a steep slope in the Ravine of the Virgin, in the municipality of Valleseco, caught alight and the subsequent fire spread violently upward through the ravine.

The cable that ignited the tree was a low voltage power line (20,000 volts) owned by the water estate known as the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas and Firgas, who were therefore responsible for its maintenance, although the site of the incident is not on their land. The installation was contracted to Endesa, and the supply was used in pumping water from several water wells that the water estate operates in the vicinity of Valleseco.

The electric company was not, therefore, responsible for the maintenance of the installation that caused the fire, say investigators. Sources close to the investigation say they are aware of warnings that Endesa has repeatedly made to the Heredad de Aguas regarding their obligation to keep the power lines in good condition, which the community of owners seems to have carried out on the connection lines within its land boundaries, but did not maintain the cables located beyond its walls.

The Civil Guard keeps access to the facilities of the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas in Valsendero sealed.

The Civil Guard keeps restricts to the facilities of the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas in Valsendero sealed. Image: ANGEL SARMIENTO


In the case of electrical connections considered to be in the public domain, their owners are not only obliged to maintain them, but owners of the land cannot prevent access to the land to carry out maintenance, according to expert sources.

It is common for high energy-consuming organisations such as this to contract not only supply, but also the external electrical connections, as is the case here.

The tree is thought to have caught fire as a result of friction on its highest branches in contact with the cable in use by the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas and did not burn in its entirety. Only the canopy was completely charred because the fire neither passed down to its trunk nor its roots, nor did it affect other trees around it, but completely devastated the surrounding area in the ravine, where the fire suddenly rose towards the summits pushed on by wind and other negative climatic factors: extreme heat and low humidity.

High voltage lines inside the lands of the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas, in Valsendero.

High voltage lines on the lands of the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas, in Valsendero. Image: ANGEL SARMIENTO

Investigators, including the Civil Guard and the Forest Fire Investigation Brigade (BIIF) for the Cabildo de Gran Canaria,  suspected from the outset that the power lines in the area were the source, but did not rule out the potential for criminality, that is to say, that the fire could have been deliberate. Hence, the first steps were to investigate a man from Valleseco who two months earlier had been released from prison after serving a sentence for arson. In his case he had been convicted of setting fire to containers and debris along the roads with a lighter. But when he was interrogated he presented an alibi that, once proven, was considered adequate, ruling him out from the investigation.

In addition, the area where the fire started is very difficult to reach on foot, and impossible by car, so from the early on voluntary human participation was ruled out, and the verification that the tree where it all started had been touching one of the cables, has led to these first conclusions.

Researchers are still completing their reports waiting to collect documentation from the companies directly involved to accurately determine the responsibilities of each of them.

The newspaper El Diario has requested the Heredad de Aguas de Arucas and Firgas, make a statement on the version of these facts from its president, Yeray Hernández Santana, without any response.

Source: El Diario

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