MADRID (AP) — A major wildfire in southeast Spain prevailed over firefighting efforts by 38 water-dropping aircraft on Friday and tore through an area of hilly woodland for a second day, with one official describing it as “a hungry monster.”
The Andalusia region’s agency in charge of firefighting efforts, Infoca, ordered most crews working on the uneven terrain to withdraw late on Friday, leaving the work to aircraft dropping water.
The agency said that strong winds and temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) had created a pyrocumulus — smoke plumes that become a dangerous cloud potentially unleashing powerful lightning.
The wildfire has destroyed more than 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) of forest, prompting the evacuation of 1,000 people and leading to the death of a firefighter. People in some villages were told to stay indoors with their windows shut due to thick smoke that saturated the hills.
“We have a hungry monster, so we’re trying at the moment to ring it off and then move in to put it out,” Alejando García, deputy head of the Andalusian regional fire service, told reporters.
“The flames are very fierce and the weather forecast is bad,” he said, with no let-up from the wind expected.
Hundreds of firefighters worked overnight to clear out flammable material and open firebreaks in the forest on the hill range in Malaga province. Arson is suspected.
The fire broke out late on Wednesday, but flames were fanned on Thursday and overnight by winds of up to 50 kilometers per hour (30 mph) which shifted direction.
Andalusia’s emergency service said that 1,004 residents in Estepona, a resort town popular among expats and foreign vacationers, and three other municipalities closer to the fire were relocated to houses of relatives or makeshift accommodation in pavilions.
A 44-year-old firefighter perished Thursday while trying to extinguish the blaze.
Wildfires — some natural and others manmade — are common in southern Europe during the hot, dry summer months, but have been particularly numerous around the Mediterranean this year following intense heatwaves. Worsening drought and heat also fueled wildfires in the western United States and in Russia’s northern Siberia region.
Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving more extreme events.
From the beginning of 2021 to Aug. 29, some 74,200 hectares (186,000 acres) of forest and bush areas had burned in Spain, according to official data from Spain’s Ministry of Ecological Transition.