One of Andalucía’s worst countryside fires for many years raged north-west of Estepona for six days last month until it was finally brought under control with the arrival of rain on September 14. Around 10,000 hectares of forest were razed, some 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and one fire-fighter died as the flames spread across the Sierra Bermeja.
The fire was first reported in the evening of September 8 and was quickly spread by a hot and dry wind which blew smoke at 40 kph as far as the city of Málaga. Within four days, residents in the villages of Jubrique, Genalguacil, Faraján, Pujerra, Júzcar and Alpandeire had been moved to safety in Ronda while some residential areas of Estepona and in Benahavís were also evacuated.
At one stage over 1,000 fire fighters were being supported 260 members if the military as the danger worsened. The dead man was an experienced 44-year-old fire-fighter from Almería who was the only fatal victim of the blaze which the authorities described as a “hungry monster.” By September 21, the area had been declared a disaster zone by the government in Madrid.
It was also being referred to as a “sixth generation” fire, defined as one which exceeds the capacity of the authorities to extinguish it. Experts say that the greatest danger such a fire poses is the formation of huge clouds which rise like a chimney over the flames, taking burning materials up into the sky, only to dump them later over a wide area.
As the fire finally came under control, the focus was switched to determining how it had started, and it appears to have been a deliberate act. Two ignition points were found located near Genalguacil, just a few kilometres away from each other. In addition, the outbreak began at night when fire-fighting aircraft cannot operate and in an area which is difficult to access on foot.
The president of Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, has supported the arson theory. He said that whoever set the flames knew that the weather forecasts were adverse – a terral wind with gusts of up to 45 kilometres per hour blowing in temperatures over 30 degrees and a drop in humidity – conditions which created the perfect storm.