Fast-moving flames and choking smoke engulfed mountains by the glitzy Spanish resort of Marbella on Friday, killing an elderly Briton, injuring five others and sending thousands fleeing.
About 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 treetops, lighting up the sky in the early hours as a 12km 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.
A British man’s corpse was found in a small rural home near Ojen, not far from Marbella, despite an evacuation order the previous night, a spokesman for the Andalusia regional government said. The 78-year-old man’s burnt corpse was found near the remains of the house, which had been consumed by flames, the government said in a statement. A search of the ruins found no other victims.
Another five people were taken to hospital, among them a Spanish couple with second and third-degree burns over about two-thirds of their bodies, the government spokesman said.
“They are in a serious state with mechanical ventilation,” he said, describing them as a married couple: a woman of 58 and her husband, who was about the same age.
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 three and the other 11, took refuge from the inferno in a cave, and were treated for bruises and given oxygen in hospital, officials said.
The inferno broke out on Thursday afternoon and rapidly gained strength into the night.
“The whole mountainside was burning,” one evacuated resident, Catherina, told Spanish news agency Europa Press.
“At dusk, you could see the full glare of the fire and the sky was entirely covered in red,” said another resident from near Marbella named Antonio.
In the early morning, the wind died down and a brief sprinkling of rain fed hopes for relief.
However, an Agence France-Presse photographer said the wind blew hard again later in the day as temperatures rose. The town of Ojen’s about 3,000 residents were all evacuated as a thick cloud of smoke billowed in the cinder-clogged air. Surrounding trees were blackened by the fire. However, residents in other parts of the scorched region were allowed to return home.
In the late afternoon, firefighters were focusing on hotspots near Ojen and trying to prevent the fire spreading into new areas after it jumped a highway, officials said. Spain’s major Mediterranean motorway was briefly cut off, but reopened in the afternoon.
Marbella’s beaches and vibrant night life 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 last Sunday, three times the amount during the same time last year and the highest amount in a decade, according to agriculture ministry figures.