Police question man suspected of starting blaze by lighting toilet paper

Police investigating a massive forest fire in the Canary Islands that has claimed one life and forced the evacuation of 2,500 people are interviewing a man suspected of accidentally causing the blaze by setting light to his used toilet paper.

The fire, which began on Wednesday in a wooded, mountainous area on the island of La Palma, was still raging on Friday. As well as driving hundreds of people from their homes, it killed a park ranger who died trying to put out the flames.

A spokesman for Spain’s UGT union confirmed the death of the ranger, 54-year-old Francisco José Santana, who had a wife and five children.

Spain’s acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, tweeted his condolences to Santana’s family and offered his support to those still working to bring the fire under control.

On Wednesday, a Guardia Civil patrol arrested a 27-year-old German man close to the spot where the fire broke out.

A spokesman at the Guardia Civil’s headquarters in Tenerife said the man, who has not been named, was thought to have been living in a cave on the island. He told officers he had started the fire by accident by setting alight toilet paper after defecating in an area full of pine needles and other flammable vegetation.

Police are still interviewing him and he is expected to appear in court later on Friday or on Saturday, accused of causing a forest fire through negligence. The spokesman said officers did not know how long he had been living in the cave.

Two hundred people are fighting the blaze, as are helicopters and planes, a spokeswoman for the islands’ emergency services said. Weather conditions are not expected to make their task any easier, as high temperatures and strong winds fan the flames.

Nieves Lady Barreto, the islands’ minister for territorial policy, sustainability and safety, said the blaze had already affected an area of 4,940 acres (2,000 hectares).

“The fire is very aggressive because it’s already burned a large surface area in a short space of time on two fronts: one heading north and the other south,” she said.

The government of the Canary Islands has appealed to people to remain calm and be patient as efforts continue to bring the blaze under control.