POLICE are hunting for a ‘balding’ arsonist who is believed to have started the wildfire that razed 10,000 hectares of the Sierra Bermeja.
Olive Press sources have revealed that the mystery man appears to have set three separate fires on the night the mega-blaze began.
“But only two of them took off, one on either side of the mountain peak,” revealed the INFOCA fire service employee, who asked not to be named.
“What he knew was that as the wind was picking up and it was getting dark, it was not going to be put out that evening,” he added.
Detectives from the Guardia Civil’s environmental arm Seprona are now working with the Forest Fire Investigation Brigade (BIIF) to establish the cause of the blaze that killed one firefighter and dozens of wild animals between Estepona and Ronda.
They are probing why the fires were deliberately started on the road between Estepona and the inland Genal Valley village of Genalguacil.
The Olive Press can reveal that the man was seen driving in a car shortly after 9pm on September 8… and that he may have taken off its number plates!
“That is what the rumours are at the moment,” the fire source continued.
What is certain is that the fire was definitely caused by arson.
And intriguingly, two other recent fires in the same area were apparently linked to marijuana plantations.
The first in May in Genalguacil was caused by workers as they prepared the land in preparation to cultivate, while the second in July in nearby Jubrique was caused by an electric generator that was linked to another plantation.
“This fire was definitely caused by humans, it was not natural,” said Jose Luis Merida of BIIF.
“We are keeping our investigations open on the causes behind it for now.”
There has been speculation that it could have been caused by a neighbours dispute, as well as following an argument between drug gangs.
It is also possible that international smugglers could have caused it in order to increase larger shipments of marijuana to the coast from Morocco over the following nights.
The Olive Press reported in 2018, how a big blaze in Manilva that led to the evacuation of 400 people may have been caused as a diversion tactic for drug traffickers.
It came after a semi-submerged stolen 4×4 was dragged out of the sea the following morning.
Meanwhile, BIIF boss Merida slammed the lack of forestry workers based in the nearby Genal and Guadiaro valleys. In total, just 5 in the former and seven in the latter.
He fears that this huge lack of much-needed mountain employees could lead to a far bigger blaze razing a massive area between Estepona and Campillos.
“There is a long, thick line of 200,000 hectares of forestry between Estepona and Ronda, taking in the Sierra de las Nieves and stretching all the way to Campillos,” he told La Opinion de Malaga.
“It could all go up in one big blaze,” he warned. “There are not enough plans in place to prevent a fire like this. A lot needs to be done.”