A 78-year-old British man burned to death, and hundreds of British expats were evacuated from residences and holiday homes in southern Spain yesterday as fire swept through the southern half of the province of Málaga.
The body of the British man, who has not yet been named, was found underneath the charred remains of an agricultural toolshed in the village of Ojén, which police had previously evacuated as the flames grew closer. There were also reports that his wife was missing.
By early evening yesterday, up to 1,500 square hectares of scrub and woodland had been destroyed, with the worst of the flames sweeping northwards towards the village of Ojén. Four other villages and towns in the Andalusian region, including the coastal resort of Marbella, have been affected and around 5,000 residents evacuated from the area.
"I've seen flames of up to 30m high and various houses up in flames between Alhaurín and Coín," Angel Nozal, the mayor of Mijas, said.
Apart from the British man, another badly injured man has been taken to hospital in Seville, whilst a women and her two children who took refuge in a cave in Ojén needed treatment for oxygen deprivation. A further five with unspecified injures were taken to Marbella hospital. The province's beaches and picturesque "white villages" are a popular holiday destination, and although many Spaniards will have already returned from their summer holidays, the province is a favourite residential area for many of the one million Britons estimated to live in Spain.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We estimate that several hundred Britons have been evacuated, including some 300 who have been relocated to evacuation centres in the La Cala de Mijas and Calahonda areas."
Rosemary and Terry Kemp were evacuated from the apartment they own in Elviria, near Marbella, in the early hours of yesterday morning, before being allowed home later in the day. "We could hear this terrific roar, which was quite frightening because although we seemed to be quite a distance from the fire… there was ash getting into the house," Mrs Kemp told The Independent. "We left the house when they told us to evacuate – there were around 200 or 300 people milling around. There were places provided for people. All night we could hear the sirens. It was quite chaotic and it was raining ash."
Some accounts say the wildfires started at around 7pm on Thursday some 25km inland of the popular resort of Fuengirola. Regional Interior Ministry official José Luís Ruiz Espejo told the Associated Press the latest fire started outside the mountain town of Coí*, north-east of Marbella, and that the authorities suspected arson.
Whatever the original cause, the exceptionally hot summer, prolonged drought in the region and the mountainous terrain helped the fire spread.
More than 400 fire fighters were brought in to help tackle the blaze. In Marbella, where up to 1,000 people were told to leave a housing estate above the town on Thursday, the local hospital continued to function. The region's main inland toll road was closed for several hours, but the A-7, closer to the coastline, remained open.
This year has seen a high number of forest fires in mainland Spain, with three people killed by a blaze in the Catalan city of Gerona in late July. More fires have broken out in Castille, Zaragoza, mountains west of Madrid and Almería in the last 10 days.