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FIRE

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.

Firefighter dies battling southern Spain wildfire
Forest firefighters work in Estepona, Malaga province, during a wildfire on September 9, 2021. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

The 44-year-old was one of around 400 firefighters tackling the flames
which had broken out 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”.

Firefighters were backed by 29 water-dropping aircraft in their battle against the blaze during the day.

The regional government said around 1,000 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 Sánchez 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.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

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ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

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