Madrid - A fierce forest fire fanned by high winds has forced the evacuation of around 4,000 residents on the Canary Island of La Palma, the Spanish government said Saturday.

Flames raging on steep hillsides southeast of the island's dormant San Antonio volcano have engulfed several houses and could damage fragile wildlife habitats, environmental worker Narciso Lorenzo said by telephone.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but several days of high temperatures have contributed to dry conditions on the normally verdant La Palma - the greenest and least developed of Spain's Canary Islands, off the West African coast. Pop singer Madonna praised La Palma by its local name in her song "La Isla Bonita."

Virtually all of the island's firefighting forces, including several aircraft, have been deployed to combat the blaze at three points around the town of Fuencaliente.

Spain sent a Military Emergency Unit from the nearby island of Tenerife, while a battalion was preparing to depart for La Palma from a mainland military base near Seville, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said 52 people were evacuated by boat from an area known for rare Canary pine forests and vineyards.