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One dead and a thousand evacuated in Sierra Bermeja fire

One dead and a thousand evacuated in Sierra Bermeja fire
/ SALVADOR SALAS
  • An Infoca firefighter died while tackling the blaze that has been sweeping through Genalguacil, Jubrique, Estepona and Benahavís since Wednesday night

The wildlfire that has been raging on the hillsides of the Sierra Bermeja behind the western Costa del Sol since Wednesday night had caused one death and forced around a thousand people out of their homes as flames got dangerously close to residential areas near Estepona and Benahavís.

Infoca firefighter Carlos M.H, 44, part of the Almeria branch of the specialist brigade, died while tackling the blaze on Thursday.

The regional minister for Agriculture, Carmen Crespo, confirmed the death on Thursday night and offered words of encouragement to the Infoca firefighters.

"When they came down the firefighters told us they had not seen flames like these in a long time. And they are still there, fighting the blaze. This man has died in the act of service to the people of Andalucía; we all owe him, at least, public recognition," she said.

By Thursday evening around a thousand residents, mainly on developments in Estepona and Benahavís, had been evacuated from their homes as a precaution as the huge wildfire continued to spread through the area fanned by winds.

The blaze broke out at around 9.30pm on Wednesday in Jubrique and Genalguacil in the Ronda mountains and spread down through the Sierra Bermeja, affecting parts of the municipalities of Estepona and Benahavís.

One evacuated house had been destroyed by the flames as was the porch of another, reported the regional minister of Agriculture, Carmen Crespo, on Thursday afternoon.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, around 400 residents on the Forest Hills and Abejeres developments were evacuated as the flames got dangerously close, while later that day residents were ordered to leave their properties on the Urbanización Montemayor in Benahavís.

People were also evacuated from properties in Peñas Blancas, Charca de la Extranjera, Huerta Padrón and Río Velerín, as were visitors and guests at Selwo Aventura in Estepona.

People with no alternative accommodation were temporarily housed at the Carmen sports centre in Estepona or at Benahavís town hall.

Dense smoke from the fire caused the AP-7 toll motorway to be closed for a few hours between kilometres 157 and 171 in both directions; although it was reopened at 9.30am, before being closed again for a while on Thursday afternoon. The MA-8301 and MA-8302 were closed throughout the day.

By Thursday evening there were 419 professionals tackling the blaze, among them 300 Infoca members on the ground, who were being supported from the air throughout Thursday by 29 planes and helicopters. Fire-fighting staff have been drafted in from Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Almeria, Jaén and Seville, joining those from Malaga province.

Infoca pointed out that the terrain is difficult, with very steep slopes. The strong westerly wind, with gusts of up to 45 km/h, aided the spread of the flames and made fire-fighting tasks difficult.

By Thursday night the fire had affected some 3,600 hectares in the Sierra Bermeja. Heavy machinery had been brought in to the area to create a wide firebreak in an attempt to stop the spread of the flames.

Fire was first reported to be burning at two different points at around 9.37pm on Wednesday in the municipality of Genalguacil, which has led to speculation that it could have been started intentionally.