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Mayor fears drug smugglers are using Manilva as an alternative base for the Campo de Gibraltar

A firefighter damps down the fire near Manilva on Monday.
A firefighter damps down the fire near Manilva on Monday. / EFE
  • 400 people had to be evacuated from their homes on Monday as a result of a fire believed to have been deliberately started as a distraction

The mayor of Manilva, Mario Jiménez, has confirmed that the fire that caused some 400 people to evacuate their homes in the early hours of Monday morning was started deliberately.

There are currently many theories as to the origins of the blaze, but following the discovery of an abandoned rucksack and a 4x4, adapted for transporting drugs, submerged under the sea, the leading hypothesis is that the fire was started by drugs traffickers as a means of distracting the authorities normally stationed to follow coastal activities.

In response, the mayor warned that the municipality couldn't allow itself to become "a substitute for the Campo de Gibraltar" in bring north African drugs ashore.

This is the latest incident linked to drugs trafficking in Manilva this year. Just two weeks ago, as reported in SUR in English, a high-speed chase resulted in a speedboat crashing into a Sabinillas beach full of tourists; this followed on from the murder of a goatherd in a case of mistaken identity back in February.

Awoken by flames

It was around 1.40am on Monday that the 112 emergency services hotline received around 170 calls, warning of a fire in the northeastern part of Manilva. "The flames were taller than the buildings," said Francisco Roig, resident in Urbanización Los Hidalgos, who was woken up by Local Police. "We were very lucky because the flames would have come to our doorstep and would have caught us all asleep."

Markel and Patricia, a Madrid couple on holiday in the town, had returned from dinner in Marbella to the Villa Erina hotel. "We saw the fire but we weren't worried because it seemed so small and far away," said Patricia. However, just a few minutes later and the hotel was being evacuated.

In total, some 400 people were evacuated as part of the operation, declared a level one forest fire emergency by 5.17am. The town hall opened up the sports hall in Sabinillas to offer shelter to those affected but many chose to stay at the homes of relatives or to seek shelter in their cars in areas declared safe.

In total, 60 people made use of the sports hall, while scores of people were affected by the closure of the A-7 motorway between kilometres 140 and 142 until 8am.

"Civilians put in danger"

"Drugs traffickers use these methods to distract the attention of those monitoring the coast," explained Jiménez. "Sadly they are putting the lives of a number of people at risk."

In total, three homes were affected by the fire. In the Urbanización Princesa Kristina, the fire reached a villa from which a 94-year-old woman had to be rescued after the flames reached her patio after climbing up a hillside.

Elsewhere, two rescue donkeys fled to escape as their paddock burnt down. Louise and Dan, the owners of Rosie and Eeyore for the past four years, had fled themselves when the smoke reached their property. Upon their return, Rosie, who is blind, was found and brought to safety but an agonising wait followed over Eeyore who, after an hour reappeared from the smoke covered in ash.

Louise and Dan are currently living in temporary accommodation but have vowed to rebuild the paddock once they return home. The animals are currently in the care of the Andalusian Rescue Centre for Horses (ARCH).