The flames devastate the future of Sierra Bermeja
A plane participates in the work of extinguishing the fire in Sierra Bermeja, Malaga, this Friday.
A plane participates in the work of extinguishing the fire in Sierra Bermeja, Malaga, this Friday.JORGE GUERRERO (AFP)

In the Plaza de la Alameda, in Pujerra —298 inhabitants almost two hours from Malaga— a pasodoble sounded at mid-morning yesterday. The Llena band that we are leaving wanted to brighten up some desolate streets that wore colorful pennants on account of the town’s patron saint festivities, which are celebrated this weekend. Almost none of the neighbors wanted to party. He didn’t feel like it. The music mixed with the noise of helicopters and seaplanes, the air smelled of burning and, despite the sun shining, it rained ashes and ashes. “This is ruin,” said Francisco Calvente, who was escaping the heat having a beer in the shade with his friend Ángel Morales, both 78 years old. Calvente emigrated to Paris for more than two decades and then returned to the town. He bought an eight-hectare farm in the 1990s and repopulated it with chestnut trees, which took eight years to bear fruit. “So much work for nothing. Now the whole field burned ”, he lamented. The Sierra Bermeja forest fire was considered stabilized on Friday, but on Saturday the smoke reproduced in a dozen points of the 3,500 hectares devastated by the flames.

Less than 45 minutes from the Costa del Sol, towns in the Genal Valley such as Igualeja, Júzcar, Genalguacil or Pujerra itself live off rural tourism and chestnuts. They are the two assets that suffered the most from the fire that left 10,000 hectares burned last year from this area to Estepona.

The neighbors are angry. They do not understand that that precedent has not served to avoid this fire. “Our family farm burned down then and now again. What future is going to remain for us?” Ana Vázquez, 40, explained early in the morning, who watched from El Madroño inn as helicopters poured water on her chestnut trees. “They don’t let us clean or clear the area, but they don’t do it either. We have to invest in prevention ”, added his partner, Juan José Ruiz. “This fire started right where the other one ended and on a day with the same conditions: land and strong wind. Coincidence?” asks the Igualeja resident. Sources from the Civil Guard assure that they are investigating the origin -—the investigations of the previous one are still under summary secrecy—while Environment agents of the Junta de Andalucía are already preparing a report that they will send to the judge and prosecutor’s office.

Throughout the day yesterday, aerial means dropped water again and again on the perimeter of the fire. The helicopters recharged water in rafts like the one located next to the A-397 highway, where dozens of onlookers watched the bustle. Seaplanes went down to the Mediterranean. Up to 20 air assets were used on a day, a priori, calmer. The strong wind reactivated numerous outbreaks that also required the participation of 200 firefighters from the Infoca (Andalusian Fire Plan) and nine fire engines.

Pissed off, Mateo Rosado, a member of the ValGenal chestnut cooperative, affirms that spirits are very low in the towns in the area because the administrations have abandoned them. This is what is maintained by the mayor of Genalguacil, Miguel Ángel Herrera, who embodies a popular sentiment: political attention, investment and spending remain on the Costa del Sol and the Genal Valley and the entire Sierra Bermeja is forgotten “because it gives few votes” due to its small population, barely 7,000 inhabitants in 15 municipalities. “Now the same thing will happen again as last time. Many promises, but the territory and those of us who live in it will be totally abandoned in every way”, insists Herrera.

The fire began on Wednesday at 3:04 p.m. in the La Resinera area, a farm of some 6,500 hectares – the vast majority of which was serpentine resin pine – that was owned by Muammar Gaddafi and, later, by the Libyan Foreign Bank. Some 2,000 homes and a golf course were planned for it, although problems in Libya put the operation on hold. The huge plot falls from Júzcar and Pujerra to Benahavís, where some 2,000 people were evicted on Thursday. “It is curious that in the richest town in Malaga there are no exit roads and the fire could collapse the only access road,” highlights Javier de Luis, spokesman for Ecologistas Malaka and who in 2019 headed the list of Izquierda Unida a las municipales of the locality. Opposite, La Zagaleta, a luxury development, has two firefighting vehicles of its own, dozens of hydrants, kilometers of hoses and its own helicopter. It was not evicted, as other residential areas such as Marbella Hills or Montemayor did, where the fire burned yesterday afternoon less than a kilometer from several luxury homes.

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Other residents of Benahavís believe that the flames will give free rein to new urban projects. “In 10 or 15 years we will see something built there,” says twenty-something Mickael Dahan. His friend Erika Green, 23, says they are used to fires in town by now. “They repeat themselves too often,” she complains to herself. Javier Martos, spokesman for the Sierra Bermeja National Park platform, has in fact investigated the recurrence of the fire. His data reflects that since 1975 the large forest fires —those of more than 500 hectares— occur every 4.69 years on average in Sierra Bermeja. Until 2021, the average was one every 4.99 years. The trend towards higher frequency is clear. “The natural forest mass has grown, but without prevention, the forest has more chances to burn,” says Martos, who indicates that the resin pine is prepared to regenerate quickly after the flames, but in the face of so much fire “it is impossible for it to do so ”.

During the first half of the 20th century, fires also existed, but with much less resources and the same orographic difficulties, they were more easily controlled. “Then the field was used, it was taken care of and it was possible to act quickly. Not now,” he notes. The specialist says that Sierra Bermeja is one of the hotspots most affected by fire in all of Andalusia, which is why he claims that it forms part of the Sierra de las Nieves National Park: “If things don’t change, it will continue to be a time bomb.”

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