A worsening wildfire that kept advancing through forest land and prompted the evacuation of nearly 1,000 residents has claimed the life of one firefighter, authorities in southern Spain said late on Thursday.
The blaze in a mountain range of the province of Málaga broke out late on Wednesday and grew, fanned by winds of up to 50km/h that constantly shifted directions. Nine hundred and forty people were evacuated near the resort town of Estepona and three other municipalities, the Andalusia regional authorities said.
The region’s fire service, Infoca, said a 44-year-old firefighter perished as a result of burns caused by the flames. The victim was part of a crew of nearly 300 firefighters working on the ground helped by 29 planes and helicopters, authorities said.
José Gracia Urbano, the mayor of Estepona, told reporters that investigators were looking at the fire as the result of possible arson, given that it started in two different places late in the evening as the wind was gusting up. “It’s very suspicious,” Urbano said, in comments carried by TVE, Spain’s public broadcaster.
Smoke from the blaze also led to the closure of 14 kilometers (9 miles) of the AP-7, a main motorway. Although traffic resumed later on Thursday, it was blocked again in the afternoon as stronger winds fanned the flames. At least two smaller roads remained closed.
The regional fire extinguishing service said that the rugged terrain made quelling the flames difficult. “It has pronounced slopes and there is a strong west wind that is complicating the work,” Infoca said in a statement.
Wildfires – some natural and others human-made – are common in southern Europe during the hot, dry summer months. Spain’s Ministry for Ecological Transition said that as of 29 August, 74,200 hectares (186,000 acres) of forest and bush areas in the country had burned in 2021.