Firefighter dies battling southern Spain wildfire

A firefighter was killed on Thursday battling a wind-fuelled wildfire in southern Spain which forced the evacuation of hundreds of people and closed a key highway, local officials said.

The 44-year-old was one of around 400 firefighters tackling the flames which spread late Wednesday in the Sierra Bermeja mountains in the southern province of Malaga, the Andalusia regional government  said in a statement.

“You can imagine the pain and sadness at his command post,” Carmen Crespo,  environment minister in the regional government of Andalusia, told a news conference, adding an investigation had been opened into his death.

She said the fire was “very complicated and very difficult. Dangerous, very dangerous”.

Over 25 water-dropping aircraft helped firefighters trying to control the blaze during the day.

Emergency services said around 900 people were evacuated from their homes — mainly from the municipality of Estepona, an area popular with British pensioners and holidaymakers.

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

Firefighters said strong winds, gusting up to 60 kilometres (40 miles) an hour, hot and dry conditions and the steep mountain slopes were making their task difficult although they hoped cooler night temperatures would help them gain the upper hand.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed condolences on Twitter to the family and colleagues of the firefighter who died.

“The commitment, dedication and courage of forest firefighters is commendable,” he added.

Local officials suspect the blaze may have been deliberately started.

“It is striking that at the same moment in the evening, when there were strong winds in different spots, there were different outbreaks of fire,” Estepona mayor Jose Garcia Urbano told reporters.

The fire forced the closure of the AP-7 highway, which runs along the Mediterranean coast, for several hours on Thursday. Two other roads remain closed.

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