AN ELDERLY man has been arrested in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for deliberately starting 14 forest fires in the last five years.
The accused, aged 80, is said to have committed his first-known arson attack near the Tafira university campus in the region's capital – an area where any fire has a huge risk of taking hold quickly and putting a high number of people in danger.
A series of blazes in sensitive areas – replete with plant life which dries out in summer, prone to drought and near a forest – has been investigated since 2010, since they all appeared to have been started in a similar way.
All 14 began with a pile of dry rubbish, such as paper or cardboard, doused in flammable liquid.
The worst of them broke out on May 1, 2013 in the La Palmita area close to the college, destroying 626 square metres of land including native species of palm trees.
Some of the infernos were a mere 150 metres from the Guiniguada residential area, meaning they could have easily destroyed homes and cost lives – particularly as their focal points were close to a dry riverbed running west and south-west of the area which, if it had gone up in flames, would have surrounded the homes with a wall of fire.
The potential size of land destroyed if any of the fires had reached the riverbed would have been as much as 15,000 hectares, or about 15 square kilometres – the dimensions of several small towns put together.
They could easily have led to a catastrophe, not only in Las Palmas, but also in neighbouring towns including Santa Brígida, San Mateo and Teror, as well as nature reserves such as the Pino Santo, Tafira, Cumbres, and the Doramas Rural Park.
The accused has been remanded in custody, although the motives – if any – for his actions are not yet known.