Peter Thacker was watching a Formula 1 race on television on Sunday when he spotted smoke from the window. He opened the door to his mobile home, parked in the holiday park known as Lazy Days in Spain – Pueblo Fiesta, in the Spanish town of Mollina in Málaga province, and saw someone trying to put out a small fire with an extinguisher. “It didn’t do any good,” explains the British retiree. At the time, the fire was slowly burning an empty property, but in just minutes, the strong wind and high temperatures turned it into an inferno. Peter escaped to the road, but like the other 70 people who lived at the site, had no time to save his belongings. In the blink of an eye, the flames devoured 40 homes and several cars, including Peter’s Nissan Juke, which he had bought just a week ago. “It was terrible. I have lost everything and now I don’t even have a place to sleep,” he says. Peter had only moved to Málaga a year ago, after retiring from his job as a bus driver in Yorkshire, in the north of England.
Less than a day after the blaze, nearly all the residents of the Pueblo Fiesta holiday park met on Monday with Eugenio Sevillano, the major of Mollina, which is home to 5,149 people. The meeting, held to discuss the next steps for the residents, took place in the Euro-Latin American Youth Center, which is also being used by the local council to accommodate 33 people who lost their homes and have no family members or friends to stay with. The residents, seated and serious, listened as Sevillano explained that they can stay at the center for 15 days, that they will receive three meals a day, administrative help to recover their documents, and will also be to make use of the food, clothes and care products that have been donated to them by people in town. “All that is very well, but now I don’t have anything. I’ve lost 13 years of my life,” says Mr Painey, another British retiree, who recalls “horrible, terrible” moments during the fire, for instance when gas canisters started exploding one after the other like fireworks.
Seated on a bench with Peter Thacker is his friend and compatriot, Gary Lamon, who recounts, with surprising calm, a year he is still struggling to come to terms with. In March, he lost his wife to cancer, he left England for Mollina to start a new life in June, and, after spending £10,000 (€11,111) on remodeling the home he bought in 2018, watched it go up in smoke, along with his car. His only consolation is that his wife “did not see what state the house was left in” after the fire.
According to Gary, there were no hydrants at the site, and the firefighters quickly ran out of water when they arrived. “With water pipes the fire would have been quickly put out, but there weren’t any,” he says. That Sunday, the fire brigade had been putting out a minor fire in another campsite nearby, and when they reached Pueblo Fiesta were practically out of water. They had to wait 20 minutes for more water to arrive. “That time was key, it would have been a different story with hydrants,” says the Briton.
“We quickly sent several teams from Antequera, Archidona and Campillos, who arrived fast,” says Manuel Marmolejo, the president of the fire department of Málaga province. More than 30 firefighters were supported by a helicopter from the Andalusian Forest Fire Service (Infoca), which dumped 3,000 liters of water on the flames. “The fire was so high that we had to withdraw and wait for the canisters to stop exploding and the situation to stabilize,” explains Marmolejo, who says they are investigating whether the campsite had all the necessary safety measures. The firefighters continued to work until 2am. EL PAÍS tried to contact Pueblo Fiesta to get their version of events, but no one answered the phone. At the site, one of the workers said she was unable to give any details. “It’s a very delicate situation and we can’t say anything,” she explained.
The cause of the fire is still unknown. A judicial police unit of the Civil Guard in Antequera has taken charge of the case, although sources close to the investigation warn that it will be difficult to determine the source of the fire given its intensity and the fact that the prefabricated houses were made with very combustible material. Two people were injured with first-degree burns, and health workers also helped several residents who were experiencing panic attacks after seeing all their belongings destroyed. Today, the burned-out wrecks of houses and cars can be seen among the ruins, where there is still a strong smell of burning. Several curious people, some even from neighboring towns, drove by in their cars to see the destruction at the campsite, which has been sealed off by the Civil Guard. “I am one of the lucky ones, my house is still there, standing up,” says Marian McLoughlan, the owner of one of the 17 homes that survived the fire. Craig Wilson is also smiling. His parents Jim and Diane bought a house in Mollina last Thursday. “It’s so lucky it’s still there,” he says.
English version by Melissa Kitson.