This Thursday, September 8, marks one year since the start of the forest fire in the Sierra Bermeja area, one of the most important natural jewels in the province of Malaga that was affected by the largest fire that the country suffered in 2021.
The hearts of the people of Malaga shrank that night with the first spark of a fire that to this day continues to be investigated as intentional, and that kept them on edge for six days until it was considered controlled. The extinction tasks lasted for a month and a half, 46 days without a break until October 24. Along the way of this nightmare, firefighter Carlos Martínez Haro lost his life.
Despite the tireless work of nearly 6,000 troops and more than 200 air vehicles, the flames spread rapidly, affecting a total of 8,401 hectares in seven municipalities in Malaga: Estepona, Casares, Jubrique, Genalguacil, Júzcar, Faraján and Benahavís, and forcing to the eviction of 2,670 people.
These are the figures of an unprecedented fire in Andalusia, classified as sixth generation, which caused its own meteorology with the formation of pyrocumulus that generated new sources. This, added to the dense forest mass and the complicated orography of the terrain, created a tongue of fire of great virulence and uncontrollable.
To combat it, the deployment of resources was also exceptional: 5,631 professionals, 98 heavy vehicles and 267 aerial resources from the Andalusian forest firefighting service (Infoca Plan), together with 230 personnel from the Military Emergency Unit (UME), other 130 firefighters from the Provincial Consortium of Malaga and other parts of Spain, and 43 from the BRIF of the Ministry for Ecological Transition.
The figures handled by the Junta de Andalucía indicate that 7,300 of the hectares of burned forest are publicly owned and another 2,000 privately owned. Most of the area corresponds to Estepona, with 4,117 hectares; followed by Casares, Jubrique and Genalguacil, where more than a thousand hectares were burned in each one. The towns of Júzcar (471), Faraján (285) and Benahavís (0.48) were also affected.
The fire destroyed a natural area of incalculable environmental value and also burned part of the Spanish fir forest, of high ecological value and unique in the world. In fact, 95% of the area covered by the flames is part of some space included within the Natura 2000 Network and the Network of Protected Natural Areas of Andalusia.
The life of the Infoca firefighter Carlos Martínez Haro, linked to the Alhama de Almería (Almería) forest defense center (Cedefo), which will bear his name, and who will always be remembered with a sculpture that the Junta de Andalucía will to be erected in his honor in the Los Reales de Estepona (Málaga) recreational area.
The investigation to find the author or authors of the fire continues with several lines of work opened at the time by the team of the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Malaga Civil Guard. Everything points to an intentional etiology, since several initial foci were detected with the same method, originating practically simultaneously and close to two points on a road with little traffic.
A year after the fateful fire, the forest continues its natural evolution, although experts predict that it will take about 20 years to return to what it was. In the affected municipalities, life has continued with a certain normality. And the administrations are working on emergency actions to recover the area.
The works basically consist of cleaning the highways and roads to guarantee safe transit, cutting down burned trees and building hydraulic structures to prevent erosion: fajinas (on the slopes) and albarradas (in the riverbeds). These structures come to stop the devastating consequences of torrential rains, such as those produced in this area in the month of March.
The Council of Ministers on September 21 declared the municipalities affected by the Sierra Bermeja fire a catastrophic zone. The sub-delegate of the Government in Malaga, Javier Salas, has highlighted the response of the central Executive with the investment of one million euros from the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (Miteco) for forest restoration work in the area, as well as the five million euros allocated to the affected municipalities after the declaration of an Area Seriously Affected by Civil Protection Emergency.
In statements to Europa Press, he recalled this “devastating” fire and the “enormous effort” in extinction, coordinated by the Infoca Plan, and where the Government acted through the air and land resources of the Miteco, the Civil Guard and the offer of the Government “from the first minute” of the UME, whose participation was requested by the Junta de Andalucía “on the fourth day of starting it”, has had an impact.
In addition, Salas has stressed the need for the Board “to apply preventive measures to avoid fires” and that, if they occur, “their impact is as minor as possible through the implementation of these prevention measures” that , as he recalled, “are crucial to minimize the effects of forest fires.”
On the part of the Autonomous Executive, the execution of its emergency works is at 91%. With a budget of around 4.6 million euros, the works were divided into five lots, of which two have already been completed, one is 98.8% complete, another 90% complete and the fifth 71% complete. according to data provided to Europa Press.
The works have a duration of nine to 12 months and, after that, emergency plans and reforestation studies will be undertaken, which will be mainly aimed at recovering the part of pinsapar lost.
For its part, the Diputación de Málaga began work on repairing highways and roads in October. In total, nine million euros have been allocated to recover and repair the damage caused by the fire, to prevent new fires and to improve the response capacity in the face of this type of catastrophe, the president of the provincial institution told Europa Press, Francis Salty.
Of that amount, 4.6 million correspond to actions to improve highways and roads, 1.9 million to repair and adapt water infrastructure, 1.4 million to build new water intakes for fire trucks in the 15 municipalities of the Genal Valley and one million in aid and subsidies to farmers, ranchers, forestry operations and commercial, catering and rural tourism companies in the affected municipalities.
“It is a wonderful place where wonderful, enterprising, hospitable people live, with many companies and businesses that live from tourism,” said Salado, pointing out that several actions have been launched to promote the Genal Valley and encourage visits and stays.
While the actions progress, the environmental movements continue to demand the participation of citizens and experts when it comes to continuing with the recovery of the area. From Ecologists in Action they criticize that the work has started “too early”, affecting the peridotite soil, “still too sensitive” by the fire.
Environmentalists continue to demand the inclusion of this area in the Sierra de las Nieves National Park to promote its protection, surveillance and shield the area from future fires. Different municipalities have joined this initiative, such as Estepona – the most affected by this fire. Its mayor, José María García Urbano, has highlighted “the efforts to value this space”, which has unique ecosystems that give it an outstanding exceptionality.