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Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Many owners and residents will already be aware of the fire sweeping along the hills of the Costa del Sol leaving devastation in its wake, the flames and smoke can be seen for kilometres.

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Over 3000 people have now been evacuated from their homes since Wednesday in Spain’s southern Málaga province due to the wildfire affecting the municipalities of Estepona, Benahavís, Jubrique and Genalguacil.

The fire broke out in the mountains of Sierra Bermeja (just above Estepona). Preventive evacuations took place in Estepona’s Forest Hill and Las Abejeras residential areas in the early hours of Thursday and by the afternoon, the flames had reached Benahavís, where the residential development of Montemayor was also evacuated.

The uneven terrain and changing winds hampered the firefighting efforts in an area that is also home to a forest of Spanish fir (pinsapo), a natural space that is considered of particular environmental value in southern Spain.

Sadly a firefighter tragically lost his life after becoming trapped whilst helping to fight the ferocious blaze sweeping across the area, with two firefighters injured on Sunday as they worked in “extremely tough” conditions.

There have been road closures on the AP-7 highway to Cádiz between Kilometres 157 and 171 (between Estepona and Marbella), as well as on the provincial roads MA-8301 and MA-8302.

The magnitude of the fire could be seen from the coast of Marbella, located 30 kilometers away.

A total of 50+ aircrafts (Helicopters and Sea Planes) along with 100’s of vehicles with more than 5000 firefighters and other personnel from various sources including the military continue to fight the blaze that has nearly covered 7000 hectares so far.

Summer wildfires are a recurring problem in Spain, few have come this close to the coast, even fewer causing this type of devastation to lives, homes, infrastructure or wildlife leaving most of the highly valuable natural area reduced to ashes.

Strong winds of up to 50km/h fanned the flames on Sunday, doubling the fire’s perimeter to 85 kilometers, up from 42 on Saturday. “This is probably the most complex fire we have seen in recent years in Spain,” said Juan Sánchez, of Infoca.

Spain’s Military Emergency Unit (UME) has been sent to the area after regional authorities warned last week that they lacked the human and material resources to deal with a fire that has been classified as Category E, the highest level in Infoca’s scale.

Two Forest Fires Assessment and Advisory Team (FAST) units from Catalonia and the Valencia region are providing additional support, along with fire brigades that have come in from Toledo, Cáceres and Cuenca.

Authorities are investigating whether the mammoth fire is the result of arson, based on the fact that it began simultaneously at two separate locations just as the wind was starting to pick up speed. On Saturday, Andalusian premier Juanma Moreno said that “everything seems to indicate that it was started on purpose and that there was a clear intention to cause as much damage as possible,” the television network Antena 3 reported.

“We’re talking about an unprecedented power and strength compared with the fires we are used to seeing in this country,” said Alejandro García, technical director of Infoca, on Saturday.

The Sierra Bermeja wildfire falls within what the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) defines as “sixth-category fires,” which are particularly unstable and difficult to contain, partly due to climate change and changing techniques in forest land management.

Fueled by high temperatures and strong winds, by Monday morning the fire had split into two separate fronts, one affecting Genal Valley and another one advancing towards Casares. Fire officials warned that available water is running out and said the best hope of quelling the flames was rainfall, which has been forecast for the coming days.

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