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Who set fire to the Sierra Bermeja?

The devastating forest fire burned for six days.
The devastating forest fire burned for six days. / ÑITO SALAS
  • Investigators are working to find the answer, and studying previous incidents in the area, such as those of May and July, where marijuana plantations were cited as possible culprits

As the smoke has cleared and the flames have died in the Sierra Bermeja, the question has shifted from "when" and "how much" to "who" and "why."

Specialists from the Forest Fire Investigation Brigade (BIIF) and the Seprona nature protection branch of the Guardia Civil are working together on the complex task of piecing together the evidence – and all of them are experts in finding the answers.

At this point, there is little doubt that the fire was deliberately started. Two ignition points were found located near Genalguacil, and just a few kilometres away from each other. One of them was in the Garapalillos area. The other, paradoxically, a few metres from a reservoir where the Infoca helicopters scoop up the water to put out the fires. Both were located next to the road that connects Genalguacil with Estepona.

Who set fire to the Sierra Bermeja?

/ ÑITO SALAS

Perfect storm

The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, supported the intentionally-started theory saying that the person or persons who did it knew that the weather forecasts were adverse, with a terral wind (gusts of up to 45 kilometres per hour) blowing, high temperatures (above 30 degrees) and a drop in humidity. The perfect storm.

Additionally the fires were started at night when the fire-fighting helicopters cannot fly, and in terrain that is difficult to access by foot.

Moreno also pointed to the presence of litter and pine cones in both areas where the fires started.

Public's help

The location where the fires were started does not help the investigators. It is a place little travelled, and less so at that time (after nine at night). Investigations in urban environments have other resources, such as security cameras. You hardly find any witnesses here,” explains a specialist. Hence, the head of Junta has called for the public’s help with the investigation.

BIIF and Seprona are already working on a reconstruction of the fire from the two sources. At this time, all the hypotheses are open, and, among other lines of investigation, the agents are collecting information from previous cases in the area.

The Sierra Bermeja has suffered several other forest fires this year. The first was in May, when a little more than three hectares burned. The second was in July and 350 hectares were scorched. In both cases, the Guardia Civil believe that that there were marijuana plantations at the origin of both fires.

“The vegetation in the area offers the perfect camouflage for the operations. They cannot be seen, not even with drones,” says a source close to the case.

Who set fire to the Sierra Bermeja?

/ ÑITO SALAS

Arsonists

According to the latest statistics, published in 2019, 46 per cent of the fires in Spain were caused by "arsonists", although Greenpeace says that, in reality, if we take into account only those who suffer a conduct disorder (pyromania) it drops to 7.11 per cent. Another significant motivation memory is that of "revenge, vandalism or damage to third parties", accounting for 16.15 per cent.

In 2019, a total of 513 people were arrested (31) or investigated (482) for forest fires, even though, according to the statistics there were 10,883 incidents declared in Spain.

“We have to be aware that it is very difficult to find the culprits. It is one of the easiest crimes to commit and also to go unpunished,” says the delegate prosecutor for the Ministry of the Environment in Malaga, Fernando Benítez.