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Day one of the Alhaurín el Grande 2012 forest fire trial. SUR
Gardener denies lighting bonfire that sparked the Costa del Sol's great fire of 2012

Gardener denies lighting bonfire that sparked the Costa del Sol's great fire of 2012

The defendant faces seven and a half years in prison for the incident which allegedly originated on the estate where he worked, which left two people dead and damaged almost 350 properties

IRENE QUIRANTE

MALAGA.

Thursday, 2 February 2023, 20:33

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"I never lit a bonfire," the man accused of sparking the huge fire on the Costa del Sol in 2012 , which began in Alhaurín el Grande and killed two people, told the Malaga's provincial court at the opening of his trial.

The blaze started on 30 August in an area known as Barranco Blanco and spread over almost 9,000 hectares – mostly forest land – in the municipalities of Mijas, Marbella, Alhaurín el Grande, Ojén and Monda. The trial began on Monday, 30 January, and is expected to last until June, with almost 350 witnesses summoned. to appear.

The Public Prosecutor's Office maintains that the suspect, a gardener, "in an absolutely irresponsible manner", lit a bonfire before 6.50pm to burn some prunings, without taking the necessary precautions and left the fire before it was extinguished. The prosecution said on the day in question the ambient temperature was 37.6C, with a relative humidity of 18.1 per cent and a wind speed of nine kilometres per hour, with maximum gusts in the following hours of up to 34 kilometres per hour and with changing directions.

Sitting in the dock, the accused denied that he had carried out any burning since he started working on the farm six months prior to the August date. He said he had clear orders from the owner of the property to deposit pruning remains in a container for later transfer and, if the container was full, the material was to left on the ground next to the container.

The gardener told the court that a few days earlier he had left some vegetable waste on the ground beside ash remains which, according to what the owner of the plot had told him was where a previous worker had lit bonfires before he was employed at the property.

The head of the Guardia Civil's Seprona nature protection branch, which investigated the fire, testified that the origin of the fire was traced to the farm where the accused was working. The Guardia Civil officer also pointed out that a day after the fire started, Seprona officers went to the same plot of land, where the remains of a bonfire with pruning waste was observed.

The Guardia Civil officer also expressed his surprise and concern that Alhaurín el Grande Town Hall had commissioned an investigation by municipal technicians and a private company to determine the origin and cause of the fire. This report stated that the fire had started in the lower part of the Barranco Blanco area, contradicting the conclusions of the Junta's BIIF forest fire investigation brigade.

The accused admitted at the hearing that he worked in the town hall and that he is a cousin of the mayor at the time, Juan Martín Serón. The Seprona officer said he distrusted the results of the report commissioned by the town hall.

The prosecution is seeking a seven and a half year prison sentence for the accused, who is charged with the crime of recklessly starting a forest fire with danger to life, two counts of reckless homicide and one of injury.

Background

Two people, both German, died as a result of the fire, which caused damage to 347 houses and facilities. The fire also caused evacuations in two areas of Mijas, four areas of Marbella and the entire town of Ojén

The prosecution alleges that the remains of the bonfire ignited dry grasses, causing a fire to spread. Two people, both German, died as a result of the fire, which caused damage to 347 houses and facilities. The fire also caused evacuations in two areas of Mijas, four areas of Marbella and the entire town of Ojén.

Forest firefighters managed to bring the fire under control two days later, on 2 September, and it was extinguished on 4 September. A total of 8,582 hectares were affected, mostly forest land. In addition to the two fatalities, the prosecutor notes that four others were injured. He is calling for the defendant, if convicted, to compensate the heirs of the deceased with 90,000 euros each and 2,500 euros for three of the injured. For the fourth, who spent three months in the ICU and is physically disabled, the amount will be determined at sentencing.

The public prosecution is also requesting compensation for the individuals affected by the fire. Of the 347 damaged homes and facilities, 74 were in Marbella, more than a hundred in Ojén and the majority, 162, in Mijas.

The public prosecution also pointed out that the damage to the public forests managed by the Junta is estimated at 12.2 million euros, the impact on groundwater at 86,856 euros, damages and expenses to Ojén Town Hall at 14 million euros, 4.2 million euros to Mijas, 57,000 euros to Marbella, 4,878 euros to Alhaurín el Grande and almost 10,000 euros to Coín town hall. Fire-fighting costs totalled some 1.5 million euros.

The defence questioned whether the fire started on the farm where the gardener was working. The defendant said that the Barranco Blanco area is a very busy area in summer and that there was a lot of rubbish there which was not cleaned up.

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