Firefighter killed during efforts to control wildfires in Málaga province

More than a thousand people had been evacuated from their homes by Thursday evening. Authorities warn the blaze is a ‘hungry monster’ that will not be put out today

A man and his son observe the forest fire in Málaga. Video: The fires in Sierra Bermeja (Spanish captions).Photo: GARCÍA-SANTOS | Video: REUTERS-QUALITY

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A firefighter died during efforts to extinguish a wildfire that broke out on Wednesday night in Sierra Bermeja, in southern Málaga province, and had burnt through 3,600 hectares of land by early Friday morning. Sources from the Andalusian regional authorities confirmed that the victim was 44 years old and a resident in Almería. He had previously participated in at least six campaigns with the region’s forest fire team. The regional premier, Juanma Moreno, sent his condolences to the firefighter’s family via social media. “This is a terrible tragedy,” he wrote.

“The fire is beyond our capacity to put it out,” said Alejandro García, deputy director of the Regional Operative Center of Infoca, Andalusia’s fire prevention and extinction plan. At a news conference, García admitted that the wildfire “cannot be put out today.”

“We are not working on putting out the fire, we are working on confining the fire. What we have here is a hungry monster and what we’re aiming to do is to confine it, to trap it within control lines and later shoot it down,” he said. “This is a very complicated fire, one of the most complicated we have seen in Andalusia.”

Last night, between 300 and 400 people were still working on the difficult terrain in an effort to control the fire, and to limit the blaze to a 2,000-hectare perimeter between the municipalities of Genalguacil, to the west, and Benahavís, to the southeast. Strong winds of up to 35km/h have made the task even more difficult, and the weather forecast is not helping, with winds of up to 40km/h expected in the coming hours.

Residents of Genalguacil and Jubrique have been ordered to remain indoors and keep their doors and windows shut, due to the risk posed by an overhead fire cloud that could rain down incandescent matter in the area if it bursts, Diario Sur reported.

Images of the fire in Málaga.Photo: EUROPA PRESS | Video: EUROPA PRESS

More than a thousand people have been evacuated from their homes, more than 700 of whom were in developments in Estepona, which has been the worst-affected municipality so far.

The fire started at around 9.30pm on Wednesday, and spread uncontrolled throughout the night. On Thursday, and despite the adverse conditions, fire teams managed to keep it contained, with a slow spread toward the east and the coast.

The majority of the affected areas are rural, and are home to single-family farms and some residential developments. The wind served to prevent the flames from reaching the fir forest located in the Reales de Sierra Bermeja area, one of the botanical treasures of the Málaga mountains.

A tweet from the regional forest fire service showing the flames.

The regional agriculture chief, Carmen Crespo, said that the origins of the fire were “very striking,” and suggested it could have been deliberate given that it broke out at night and in two separate areas at the same time. A third point of origin was also located in the morning behind a zoological park in Estepona, several kilometers from the original outbreak.

Most of the people evacuated were able to stay with relatives or in other properties of their own. Fewer than 20 people had to spend the night in emergency shelters in Estepona or Benahavís.

The smoke spread from the sierra to the coast and was visible from as far away as Málaga and La Línea. Satellite images showed how the cloud moved during the afternoon toward the southwest, until it was covering the Alborán sea between the Almería and Melilla coasts.

Summer wildfires are a recurring problem in Spain, where there were large blazes this year in places such as Ávila. And in the Canary Islands, a project is underway to document the rebirth of a highly valuable natural area that was reduced to ashes two years ago.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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