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Forest ranger who started biggest-ever fire in Canaries jailed for eight and a half years 

A sacked fire ranger who deliberatey started the biggest-ever forest blaze in the history of the Canary Islands when he set a pine tree alight to show “how much his services were needed” has finally been jailed for eight and a half years a decade after the disaster.

More than 5,000 people, including British holiday-makers, had to be evacuated from their homes, hotels and campsites on Gran Canaria as a ferocious wall of flames destroyed nearly 50,000 acres of land and burnt dozens of properties to the ground, as well as decimating a bird sanctuary which later claimed 11 million euros in damages.

The fire in 2007 took nearly a week to control and involved hundreds of troops on the ground and air and put their own lives at risk in the face of soaring temperatures and high winds. Even the judge criticised the length of time it had taken for the case to come to court.

The man responsible, now aged 47, was arrested shortly after the fire and admitted starting it on purpose after his temporary contract with the island’s forest rangers came to an end and was not renewed. He used a single match to set fire to a pine tree so that the authorities would realise how vital his job was. The public company for which the defendant worked was specifically involved in the campaign for the prevention and control of forest fires.

“He decided to take advantage of his technical knowledge to set fire to a pine needled area where he knew that the fire was going to spread rapidly (technicians described the place as “an authentic gas station”) and in very favourable weather conditions for a fire,” said the court ruling.

“By means of the simple mechanism of lighting a match, the defendant caused a fire that raged for days and burned 19,291 hectares of land, 87 per cent of it in protected areas.”

The judge in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria who jailed him said there were two mitigating factors: one that he had admitted his guilt and saved a trial which had been expected to last for six months and secondly, that such a long time had elapsed since the offence and there had therefore been an unacceptable failure of the administrative justice. A jail sentence of 16 years had been expected.

Settlements have also been reached or are pending with 400 injured parties who lost property or land as a result of the fire.

The defendant asked for “forgiveness”, saying his actions had got out of hand and he only wanted to show how few resources there were for battling forest fires.

Although he had deliberately chosen the day of July 27th to start the fire because of the tinderbox conditions, he had not realised the “catastrophe” which would follow. Originally, he blamed two drug addicts but then admitted his guilt.