PHOTO: Ñito SALAS

Alhaurín wildfire advances at 50 metres per minute, twice the speed of the devastating Sierra Bermeja blaze

The abundance of pine and scrub, together with the steepness of the terrain, is making it difficult for Plan Infoca aircraft and ground teams to fight the flames

JUAN CANO / IGNACIO LILLO

The Alhaurín el Grande fire is advancing at a speed of 50 metres per minute, almost double that of the fire in June in the Sierra Bermeja, which barely reached 30 and yet, despite this, devastated 5,000 hectares.

The voracity of the fire, which started at noon this Friday, 15 July, has been fuelled by the mass of vegetation, rather than by the wind.

The fire has entered an area densely populated with pine trees and a dense layer of scrub in the undergrowth.

Although the forest fire originated in the Higuerón area, in the municipality of Mijas, the slight wind pushed it towards the municipality of Alhaurín el Grande, whose population has been affected by the smoke and the constant fall of ash released from the fire.

The blaze has advanced on a single front, although throughout the afternoon it has developed several different sources due to the exploding pine cones, which are shot by the flames like missiles.

The complexity of the fire lies mainly in the orography of the affected terrain, which is in the middle of the mountains and with very steep slopes that make it difficult to fight the flames on the ground.

The work by air is also proving to be more difficult than usual due to the density of the forest and the height of the pine trees (the flame front reaches some 20 metres high), since, according to Infoca, the water dropped from the aircraft remain in the treetops, which prevents them from fully falling onto the undergrowth.

Weather forecast

Without it being by far the worst possible scenario (a terral wind would have unimaginable consequences) the weather will not help firefighters to control the blaze over the weekend.

According to the data provided by state forecaster Aemet, maximum temperatures of 34 degrees are expected tomorrow (Saturday) in Alhaurín el Grande during the middle hours of the day in that area of ​​the Guadalhorce Valley.

The wind - just like yesterday - will blow from the southeast, with maximum gusts of about 30 km/h.

Relative humidity will not help either, as it is expected to remain very low at around 30% to 40%. In other words, the 'three thirty' rule is fulfilled: more than 30 degrees of temperature, 30 kilometres per hour of wind and 30% humidity.

Scientific explanation

Enrique Salvo, botanist and professor at the University of Malaga (UMA), insists that the abundance of pine trees is the key factor in this fire. "Some mountains make me worry," warned the academic.

"A burning pine cone is like a grenade that explodes," Salvo warned, and the resin also acts as a vehicle for the flames. The Mediterranean forest is adapted to fire, "but these blazes behave differently, they are forest crops that in some cases have managed to recover native forest, but the crops need permanent maintenance that we have forgotten."

This, together with the dry plant material that has accumulated, causes it to spread rapidly. "It is a maintenance problem, we are very concerned about the mountains in Malaga."