Evacuees begin return to Malaga after 'worst fire in memory'


Wildfires that killed one person and threatened to spread to villages around the Spanish resort of Marbella on the Costa del Sol had mostly been halted by firefighters last night, allowing some 4,000 people who had been evacuated to start returning to their homes and hotels.

The identity of the 78-year-old man who was found dead remained unconfirmed last night. His body was found at Las Blanquillas, near Ojen, on Friday, and rescue workers were reported to be searching for his wife. Five other people were injured, two seriously, in the blaze. Thousands of people had been evacuated from the area.

Officials said it was the worst fire in memory in the coastal province of Malaga, part of the Andalucia region.

More than 400 firefighters and members of the Spanish armed forces fought flames overnight, using eight helicopters and aeroplanes to help drench the flames as they approached towns and villages north of the coast.

The cause of the fire will be investigated, and authorities have not ruled out that it was started deliberately. The blaze, which has now affected more than 1,000 hectares of land, broke out on Thursday evening in the hills above the tourist mecca of Marbella. It raced south and west through hilly, tinder-dry countryside, fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

Locals and holidaymakers were evacuated from Marbella, Ojen, and a campsite at Alpujata. One couple, believed to be in their late fifties, were taken to hospital with 60 per cent burns.

As officials reopened the road between Marbella and Ojen yesterday evacuees started returning to their homes, a spokeswoman for the Andalucia regional government said.

Hundreds of thousands of expatriates from the UK and northern Europe live on the Costa del Sol, which is one of Spain's most popular holiday destinations.

A heatwave this summer has resulted in wildfires in northern Catalonia, with four deaths, while thousands of people were evacuated earlier this month in the Canary Islands because of fires.