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Rainfall helps firefighters control southern Spain's inferno

 AP / Updated: Sep 14, 2021, 13:43 IST

MADRID: Authorities in southern Spain say that rain has helped to bring under control a major wildfire that ravaged 7,800 hectares (19,200 acres) of land despite more than five days of intense firefighting work by land and air.

Juan Manuel Moreno, the president of the Andalusia region, said in a tweet early on Tuesday that "the rain that has been falling for some hours has been the best ally of the intense and admirable work of the crews."

But he said that the blaze in Sierra Bermeja, a mountain range close to the tourist-magnet Costa del Sol, is not over and that work to completely extinguish the flames is complex.

Authorities say they have reasons to believe arson is behind the fire, which started in various hotspots late on Wednesday in an area that environmentalists say harbored a unique ecosystem. Spain's prosecutor's office has launched an investigation.

The virulence of the fire, fanned by high temperatures and strong winds, surprised authorities, with a veteran forestry technician describing it as a "hungry monster" that reacted despite hundreds of firefighters, soldiers, and dozens of air-dropping aircraft deployed to the area.

A 44-year-old firefighter died Thursday while trying to extinguish the blaze.

Around 2,600 residents have been evacuated, but most of them had returned to their homes by Tuesday morning, said the regional fire extinguishing service, Plan Infoca.

Experts with the agency have said that the Sierra Bermeja wildfire will set a precedent as the first mega-fire that Spain suffers as a result of a warming planet and the progressive abandonment of rural areas.

Official data show that wildfires are getting bigger in Spain. In the first eight months of 2021, they consumed more forest land - 75,000 hectares or 186,000 acres - than the average during the past decade.