ESTEPONA – “The fire is beyond our ability to put out. It is a hungry monster and must be contained,” said Infoca’s deputy director. Alejandro García admitted to the press on Friday morning, the fire “cannot be extinguished today”.
The fire, which is devastating the southern Spanish Sierra Bermeja and raging in the municipalities of Estepona, Genalguacil, Jubrique, and Benahavis, has already reached the highest level in the classification used by the public forest firefighting service, according to García.
Infoca’s deputy director described the exceptional characteristics of the fire in a very graphic way. He said, “we call these types of fires hungry because they are extremely voracious. It is a hungry monster and what we intend to do is contain it. Contain it within a few lines of control and then kill it. However, in short, it is alive and well and the predictions are bad.”
The fire in the Sierra Bermeja has already been classified as class E, the maximum that Infoca allocates. “It’s a very complicated fire, one of the most complicated we’ve seen in Andalucia in a long time. We’re not working on extinguishing it completely, but on containing it. All we can do now is to ensure it does not enter the areas from which the fire can easily multiply,” said García about the strategy being used.
Infoca has now moved to level 2. This means the resources deployed to control the fire are regionally coordinated. Additionally, there is also the ability to request support from national units such as the Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME) and those of other autonomous communities.
Poniente wind that constantly changes direction
The westerly wind, along with the tricky orography of the burning area, was the main factor making the fire so uncontrollable. “These are erratic winds that make it difficult to extinguish. In addition, the fire has a topographical behaviour. So with wind, there is a high chance of convection (vertical movement of the air). Yesterday we could see how a pyrocumulus was formed. A pyrocumulus, also known as flammagenitus, is a dense, often greyish to a brown-coloured cumuliform cloud that is associated with fire or volcanic eruptions and can potentially produce dry lightning (lightning without rain),” explained García.
Carmen Crespo, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development, has also emphasised the Sierra Bermeja fire, which affects several municipalities in Malaga, is “complex”. And therefore, it has been decided to raise it to level 2 of the Emergency Plan, forest fires in the autonomous community (Infoca plan). The minister added that air resources are currently mainly needed.
Crespo continued that the location where the fire was reported, along with the circumstances, indicate that the fire was “deliberate”. And as such, is therefore under investigation. “We hope to have data as soon as possible” so that “the weight of the law rests on these people”.
The fire led to the evacuation of 1004 people and claimed the life of a forest firefighter. Furthermore, it is estimated 3,500 hectares of forest have been destroyed.
The smoke plume from the fire is so long that it can be seen on satellite images, see the photo on this page.