ESTEPONA – Update: forest fire that started in southern Spain on Wednesday evening is still ablaze. The fire still has two active fronts and is developing north into Valle del Genal and west where the village of Casares is now under threat.
Casares Mayor José Carrasco said on Monday the fire has entered the municipal boundaries; however, it does not yet threaten the buildings. Therefore, there is no question of ‘immediate danger’ for the inhabitants. The Spanish army has been assisting the fire brigade since Sunday morning. On Monday, 51 air resources and nearly 1,000 firefighters are working to extinguish four fronts of the fire. In addition to the army, teams from the regions of Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia and Extremadura have also joined those from Andalucia. On the sixth day of the fire, an area of 7,780 hectares was destroyed in the Sierra Bermeja and Valle del Genal.
A major problem ground crews now face is the depletion of water resources available to them and the firefighting helicopters. The most active front is on the south side of the Sierra Bermeja in the municipality of Casares.
Residents of six villages have been evacuated: Jubrique, Genalguacil, Faraján, Pujerra, Alpandeire and Júzcar. Four other villages in Valle del Genal are awaiting possible evacuation: Algatocín, Benalauría, Benadalid and Atajate. Currently, 1,616 residents of Valle del Genal have been temporarily evacuated from their homes. The 1,054 people who had already been evacuated from various urbanisations in Estepona and Benahavis on Thursday were able to return home on Sunday evening.
The meteorological situation has become more favourable since the Sunday night with a higher humidity. In addition, there is light rain here and there. The hope is real showers will follow on Tuesday as predicted.
‘Most complex fire’
The forest firefighting service Infoca speaks of ‘the most complex fire we have seen in Spain in recent years’. Director Juan Sánchez said the fire forced them to have “plan B and a plan C” due to the changes in weather conditions. The fire is one of the sixth generation and the E category. That is the maximum level of danger and risk within Infoca’s classification.
The wind that constantly changed direction plays an important role in this. When the fire broke out, a westerly wind (terral) was blowing and carrying the fire started just south of Genalguacil and Estepona. For the next two days there was a ‘Levante’ (east wind). This started as a light breezes, but became quite intense on Sunday. Then suddenly everything turned around; the head of the fire turned into the tail. The fronts that had to be fought came to lie completely on the other side in a short time.
What also makes the work difficult for the firefighters is the complex orography of the terrain. It is a mountainous and often densely vegetated nature reserve.
Finally, the fighting services had to deal with the internal dynamics that arose as a result of the enormous heat. “This fire is taking on a life of its own,” an Infoca spokesperson said on Sunday. Due to the rapidly rising and horizontally moving air full of smoke and combustible parts, a second fire started on Sunday. In the four days that the Sierra Bermeja and the Valle del Genal are on fire, at least three pyrocumuli have formed. These are large fire clouds from which burning particles can rain.
Two firefighters were injured on Sunday. They were taken to hospital and one is now recovering from his injuries at home. The other is still being treated. Both cases were incidental accidents due to the instability of the terrain and the steepness of the orography. One firefighter sustained a leg injury, the other in his back and knee. They were relatively lucky: a 44-year-old firefighter from Almería died on Thursday.
€8million for recovery
On Monday morning, the province of Málaga announced it would release an initial fund of €8 million to restore the devastated zone after the fire.
No time for spreading lies
Francisco Salado of the Diputación wanted to emphasise the mayors of the affected villages must remain calm. He said he understood their concerns, but stressed this is not the time to cast doubt on Infoca‘s professionalism. ‘That doesn’t help and is very unjust.’ He was referring to the insinuation of one of the mayors, fuelled by discontent among his citizens, that the fire brigade would go to greater lengths to protect the villas on the coast than the villages in the interior.
Salado: ‘It now is definitely not the time for opportunism to seek a minute of glory with demagogy, populism and lies. All lives are worth the same, just as much as those of all firefighters who work day and night and at the risk of their own lives to put out the fire. It’s a terrible, infernal forest fire that, at times, simply could not be extinguished.”