Soldiers tackle wildfire in Spain after 2,500 evacuated

Authorities are investigating evidence that arson attacks caused the fires

Aircraft tackle a wildfire in Estepona, Malaga province, Spain. Military personnel have been deployed to help extinguish the blazes. AP
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Soldiers joined more than 300 firefighters and 41 water-dropping aircraft to tackle a major wildfire that has been burning in southern Spain for four days.

The blaze in Malaga province has destroyed nearly 7,000 hectares of forest and prompted fresh evacuations, bringing the total number of residents displaced to around 2,500.

Plan Infoca, the Andalusia region’s agency in charge of firefighting efforts, said Sunday was a “key day” for bringing the blaze under control.

Nearly 1,500 residents were evacuated from the towns of Jubrique, Genalguacil and four villages on Sunday.

This follows the evacuation of more than 1,000 people from areas around the resort town of Estepona, before the weekend.

Military personnel travelled from their base in Moron, southern Spain, to join teams battling the flames.

The reinforcement was welcomed, but firefighter Rafael Fanega, who said the blaze remained “out of control”, called for more help battling the flames.

“I don’t see enough deployed personnel,” he said, speaking in Jubrique after it was evacuated.

“Some may see it differently, but that’s how I see it.”

Some progress was seen on Saturday, when authorities said better weather conditions had helped them stabilise the perimeter of the blaze, allowing them to focus on four hot spots.

High temperatures with strong winds provided the perfect conditions to turn the blaze that started late on Wednesday into a “hungry monster”, Alejandro Garcia, deputy operational chief of Plan Infoca, said.

“The potency and strength of this wildfire is unusual for the kind of blazes that we are used to seeing in this country,” Mr Garcia said on Sunday.

The firefighting agency released aerial pictures showing towering plumes of smoke emerging from rugged terrain, which it said made access difficult for crews on the ground.

A firefighter died on Thursday while trying to extinguish the blaze.

Authorities said they had evidence of arson and were investigating.

Wildfires are common in southern Europe during the hot, dry summer months.

But they have been particularly numerous around the Mediterranean this year, worsened by intense heatwaves.

In Spain, more than 75,000 hectares of forest and bush areas have burnt in the first eight months of the year, according to the country’s Ministry of Ecological Transition.

Climate scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events, such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.

Updated: September 12, 2021, 9:55 PM