The Sierra Bermeja fire has entered its third day, burning out of control. In 72 hours, it has destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of land and already extends over a 41-kilometre perimeter. It has forced more than a thousand people out of their homes and has claimed the life of Carlos Martínez Haro, a 44-year-old forest firefighter.
Firefighting efforts resumed from the air on Saturday morning, with 41 aircraft, planes and helicopters being brought in as 400 firefighters tackled the flames on the ground.
The blaze, that started with two ignition points being reported on Wednesday night, has spread rapidly across four municipalities in Malaga province – Jubrique, Genalguacil, Estepona and Benahavís – and even forced the closure of the AP-7 coastal motorway on two occasions.
At 5pm on Friday afternoon, the huge blaze generated a towering pyrocumulus ash cloud, that threatened to rain down incandescent material on the area, forcing the Infoca wildfire brigade to pull back some 200 of their 500 workers on the ground and order the confinement of the inhabitants of Jubrique and Genalguacil to their homes.
The news spread panic among the local population and messages began to circulate on WhatsApp and social media networks about the risk of an explosion. The danger was real. In Pedrógão Grande (Portugal) in 2017, some 64 people died in a similar scenario.
At 9pm Infoca announced that the pyrocumulus was beginning to dissipate and the Junta lifted the confinement of two municipalities and the Infoca firefighters returned last night to fight the fire on the front line.
The fire has reached grade E, the maximum contemplated in the Infoca plan, and is - along with the great fire on the Costa del Sol in 2012 - the most serious in the last decade in the province. On Friday morning it passed from Level 1 to 2, which implies the possibility of requesting state support. The Military Emergency Unit (UME) will be activated if necessary - and also further backup from other regions.
The deputy director of the Regional Operational Centre of Infoca described the blaze on Friday in a very graphic way: “It is a hungry monster and what we intend to do is confine it, enclose it within a few lines of control, and then kill it. What we are doing is accompanying it so that it does not enter the areas where we know it would multiply. We call these types of fires hungry because they are extremely voracious.”
The Infoca command pointed out they were facing it with "bad" weather conditions. The westerly wind blew again on Friday, with gusts of up to 40 kilometres an hour.