Hundreds flee southern Spain wildfire

BARCELONA (AFP): Firefighters hampered by strong winds were battling to contain a wildfire in southern Spain on Thursday which forced the evacuation of hundreds of people, officials said.

About 250 firefighters backed by 26 water-dropping aircraft were battling the blaze which broke out late Wednesday in the Sierra Bermeja mountains in the southern province of Malaga, the regional government of Andalusia said in a statement.

Emergency services said some 800 people were evacuated from their homes as a precaution, mainly from the municipality of Estepona, an area popular with British retirees and holidaymakers.

Several told Spanish public television TVE they were given only minutes to leave by police.

Firefighters said strong winds, with gusts of up to 60 kilometres (40 miles) an hour, dry conditions and the steep mountain slopes were making it difficult to put out the flames.

“Winds are getting stronger but luckily even though they are getting stronger, which will complicate the fire, they are coming from the west which moves the fire away from built-up areas,” the head of the Malaga firefighter division, Manuel Marmolejo, told reporters.

Local officials suspect the blaze may have been deliberately started as it broke out in several places at around the same time.