Hundreds flee southern Spain wildfire

Firefighters on Thursday battled strong winds to contain a wildfire in southern Spain, as hundreds of people were evacuated and a key highway and roads were closed.

About 250 firefighters backed by 26 water-bombing planes fought the flames 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 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, with gusts of up to 60 kilometres (40 miles) an hour, hot and dry conditions and the steep mountain slopes were making their task difficult.

“Winds are getting stronger but … 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.

“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. It’s striking,” 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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