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Deadly forest blaze near Marbella sends thousands fleeing

  • Firefighters work to control a raging forest fire as trees erupt in flames next to a road in Ojen, southern Spain.

OJEN, Spain: Fast-moving flames and choking smoke engulfed mountains by the glitzy Spanish resort of Marbella Friday, killing at least one person, injuring five and sending thousands fleeing.

Around 800 people – firefighters and emergency military personnel, backed by 31 planes and helicopters – battled the forest blaze, which was fanned by warm, dry winds in southern Spain, officials said.

Flames licked the tree-tops, lighting up the sky in the early hours as a 12-kilometer line of fire glowed across the Sierra Negra mountains by the Costa del Sol resort.

The inferno, which reportedly forced up to 5,000 people from their homes, killed one man, left a couple with major burns, and sent a mother and her two children scurrying into a cave to escape the danger.

One elderly man apparently made a fatal error of returning to his home near Marbella after he and his wife had been evacuated the previous night, a spokesman for the Andalusia regional government told AFP.

His corpse was found near the remains of the house, and firefighters searched the rubble in case his wife had also perished, the spokesman said.

“The house is charred and collapsed, so the firefighters are going through the rubble because there is a possibility that the woman could have died, but that is not confirmed,” he said.

The couple were not identified.

Another five people were taken to hospital, among them a Spanish couple being treated in Marbella for major second and third-degree burns over about two-thirds of their bodies, the spokesman said.

“They are in a serious state with mechanical ventilation,” he said, describing them as a married couple.

The flames reached their chalet in the district of Rosario in the foothills of the mountains overlooking long white beaches along the Mediterranean coast, Spanish media said.

A 40-year-old mother and her two children, one aged 3 and the other 11, took refuge from the inferno in a cave, and were now recovering in hospital, where they were given oxygen and treated for bruises.

The injuries were not considered serious, officials said.

The inferno broke out Thursday afternoon and rapidly gained strength into the night. In the early hours of the morning, the wind died down and a brief sprinkling of rain fed hopes for relief.

But an AFP photographer said the wind blew hard again later in the day as temperatures rose.

In the same region, over 2,000 residents in the town of Ojen were all evacuated as a thick cloud of smoke billowed in the cinder-clogged air. Surrounding trees were blackened by the fire.

In one area people had to be evacuated as the flames engulfed trees just a kilometer away from homes.

In the afternoon, firefighters were focusing on hotspots near Ojen and trying to prevent the fire from spreading into new areas after it jumped a highway, officials said.

Spain’s major Mediterranean motorway was briefly cut off, but re-opened in the afternoon.

Marbella’s beaches and vibrant nightlife attract about 1.5 million foreign tourists a year, mostly Britons but also Nordic visitors and Germans, French, Italians, Dutch and Belgians.

Spain is at particularly high risk of fires this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years, and blazes have broken out in various parts of the country in recent days.

Flames destroyed more than 153,000 hectares of land between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26, three times the amount during the same time last year and the highest amount in a decade, according to Agriculture Ministry figures.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 01, 2012, on page 10.
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