A view of the Sierra Bermeja fire captured at 6am this Monday. / SALVADOR SALAS

The devastating Sierra Bermeja fire doubles in size in a day

As the fire blazed out of control on Sunday, it forced almost 2,000 people from the villages of Jubrique, Genalguacil, Júzcar, Alpandeire, Faraján and Pujerra to be evacuated from their homes while, later in the day, a thousand residents of Estepona and Benahavís were able to return to theirs

JUAN CANO / JOSÉ MARÍA MARTIN

On Sunday the devastating Sierra Bermeja fire continued to grow, doubling in size and forcing the evacuation of six villages in the area due to the proximity of the flames. Almost 2,000 people had to abandon their homes, as the fire's perimeter expanded to 85 kilometres - from the 42 on Saturday.

On Saturday night, the operational deputy director of Infoca, Alejandro García, had been hopeful that the fire would be stabilised in the following hours but no-one could have foreseen the dramatic turn of events that was going to unfold at dawn.

At 2.23am, in the morning, Infoca detected the presence of a new fire on the northern front after burning embers from the fire landed in a nearby ravine, jumping the firebreak that had been created by a fire in June.

During the early hours the new fire destroyed 25 hectares and it was treated as two separate fires. But not for long. Both fires were sucked together as a single blaze that advanced north towards the Genal Valley.

Military help

Infoca commanders reacted by requesting more resources. By nine in the morning, central government was asked to deploy the Military Emergency Unit (UME), which mobilised a first contingent of 42 troops, which was expanded during the day to 260.

With the fire raging, Infoca was forced to make drastic decisions to protect the population. At 5.35 am, the eviction of Jubrique (528 inhabitants, according to the National Institute of Statistics) was ordered due to the proximity of the fire; at 9.44 am, to the 410 residents of Genalguacil; at 1.15 pm, Faraján (253) and Pujerra (301); and at 2:18 pm, Alpandeire (260) and Júzcar (232). In total, added to those who had already been evacuated in Estepona and Benahavís in previous days, they amounted to 2,670.

Evacuated

The Guardia Civil, with the help of Civil Protection volunteers, ensured that the inhabitants of these six towns left their homes in an orderly fashion. Some headed to those of relatives and friends who live in nearby towns, others to Algatocín initially, and Ronda later, where all municipal resources were mobilised to welcome them.

Infoca units, the UME troops and firefighters from the Malaga Provincial Brigade created an ‘army’ to protect properties from the fire on the northwest front, which continued to advance uncontrollably.

Road closures

In addition to besieging these six towns, the fire on Sunday threatened four other municipalities: Algatocín, Benalauría, Benadalid and Atajate but, due to a change in the meteorological situation, it was decided not to evacuate them.

The fire also forced new road closures: the MA-7307 in Alpandeire (between kilometres 0 and 8); the MA-7306 from kilometre 0 in Parauta to kilometre 5 in Cartajima; the MA-8301 from kilometre 3.5 in Estepona to 32 in Jubrique; and the MA-8302 at kilometre 15, in Genalguacil.

Rain

Meanwhile, on Sunday night, a thousand residents of Estepona and Benahavís, who were evacuated from their properties on Thursday were able to return to their homes as the southeast fire front was considered stabilised.

The hope, now, is that the weather which has so far complicated firefighting efforts, will now play a part in controlling and extinguishing the blaze. Initial forecasts predicted that the rain would arrive on Tuesday, although other sources suggested that it could be brought forward to today. An increase in humidity that favours extinction tasks is also expected.