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Wildfire raging in Spain forces more than 900 to flee, a firefighter dies

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By Reuters
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By Jon Nazca

ESTEPONA, Spain -A wildfire has forced the evacuation of more than 900 people from around the southern Spanish resort of Estepona, local authorities said on Thursday.

A 44-year-old firefighter died while working on the wildfire, regional environment chief Carmen Crespo told journalists.

The blaze started on Wednesday around 9:30 p.m. and has since burned through around 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of the densely forested area known as the Sierra Bermeja, according to the emergency services.

A total of 939 people have been evacuated from four communities in Estepona, which is popular with British retirees and holidaymakers, and one in neighbouring Benahavis, authorities said.

Local resident Cristina Zamora, 38, hurried through the streets with a large grey cat draped from her arm while a photographer helped her with another cat in a box.

“I was at work so I came running back for the animals… I had to leave my parakeets behind,” she said.

An elderly British resident who gave his name as Arthur ran through the village escorted by police before jumping into a car with his wife and dog.

“It’s just one of those things… these things happen,” he said when asked if he was scared by the fire.

A Reuters witness saw huge clouds of smoke billowing up from the forest and blowing towards the village of Las Abejeras in Estepona, which was evacuated on Wednesday night.

More than 300 firefighters are working to extinguish the fire, which has yet to be brought under control, Andalusia’s emergency services posted on Twitter.

Several roads, including a stretch of the AP-7 highway, which runs alongside the Mediterranean, were closed because of the blaze.

As of late August, wildfires had ravaged 74,260 hectares (183,500 acres) in Spain, above the average of the last 10 years but still some way off the 190,000 hectares (469,500 acres) destroyed in 2012, the worst year in the past decade.

Environment Ministry data show seven of the 10 hottest years on record in Spain occurred in the last decade.

Unusually large wildfires have raged in various parts of the world this year, fuelled by extremely hot, dry conditions that experts say are symptomatic of climate change.