Spain wildfire: Thousands evacuated as Costa del Sol is hit by worst blaze in decades

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A picture from the village of Cartajima shows the wildfire burning in the Sierra Bermeja mountain range  (AFP via Getty Images)
A picture from the village of Cartajima shows the wildfire burning in the Sierra Bermeja mountain range (AFP via Getty Images)

Soldiers have joined the battle against the worst wildfire to hit Spain’s Costa del Sol in decades, now raging for a sixth day.

An emergency brigade from the military base of Moron united with more than 300 firefighters and 41 water-dropping aircraft battling the flames.

The blaze in Malaga province has destroyed nearly 7,000 hectares of forest and prompted fresh evacuations, bringing the total number of residents displaced to around 2,500.

Authorities evacuated nearly 1,500 residents from the towns of Jubrique, Genalguacil and four other villages on Sunday. Over 1,000 other people had been removed before the weekend from areas around the resort town of Estepona, which is popular among tourists and foreign expats.

Plan Infoca, the Andalusia region’s agency in charge of firefighting efforts, described Sunday as a “key day” for bringing the blaze under control.

Despite the reinforcements one firefighter said the blaze was still "out of control" and called for more boots on the ground to battle the flames.

"I don’t see enough deployed personnel," Rafael Fanega told The Associated Press, speaking in Jubrique after it was evacuated. "Some may see it differently, but that’s how I see it."

Some progress was seen on Saturday, when authorities said better weather conditions had helped them stabilise the perimeter of the blaze, allowing them to focus on four hot spots.

The evacuated village of Jubrique, shrouded in smoke, is shown from Algatocin (AFP via Getty Images)
The evacuated village of Jubrique, shrouded in smoke, is shown from Algatocin (AFP via Getty Images)

A combination of hot and dry temperatures with strong winds created a perfect storm, turning the blaze that started late Wednesday into a "hungry monster," Alejandro Garcia, deputy operational chief of Plan Infoca, said.

"The potency and strength of this wildfire is unusual for the kind of blazes that we are used to seeing in this country," Mr Garcia told reporters.

The firefighting agency released aerial pictures showing towering plumes of smoke emerging from rugged terrain, which it said made crews’ access on the ground difficult. A 44-year-old firefighter died on Thursday while trying to extinguish the blaze.

Emergency personnel gather in Algatocin (AFP via Getty Images)
Emergency personnel gather in Algatocin (AFP via Getty Images)

Authorities said they have evidence of arson and are investigating.

Wildfires are common in southern Europe during the hot, dry summer months. But they have been particularly numerous around the Mediterranean Sea this year, worsened by the intense August heat waves.

In Spain, over 75,000 hectares of forest and bush areas have burned in the first eight months of the year, according to Spain‘s Ministry of Ecological Transition.

Climate scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.

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