By James Bryce
THEY came in the night. Police going door-to-door ordering residents out of their homes as the sky along the Costa del Sol was illuminated by fires.
Frightened and disorientated, around 4,000 people including 300 British expats, were ushered into temporary shelters away from the worst affected areas.
Elsewhere, animal charities powerless to help their charges were forced to release panic-stricken horses and dogs from their compounds to allow them to flee to safety.
Conflicting reports began to come through about the scale and location of the fires, as well as the number of casualties.
A 78-year-old man who died was initially reported as being British – a claim later refuted by the Foreign Office – while a Spanish couple suffered extensive burns.
In total, reports suggest up to 5,000 hectares have been destroyed, with more than 400 firefighters tackling the inferno, aided by eight helicopters and planes.
The Spanish Government is expected to declare the area a disaster zone in the coming days, paving the way for €71 million of humanitarian aid, plus additional EU funding for the clean-up operation.
The money will be put towards the extensive clean-up operation currently getting underway, including reforestation projects and the reconstruction of housing and infrastructure.
Emergency coordination centres have been set up in Ojen and Marbella to help residents, many of whom have returned to homes without power.
The blaze began on Thursday night in the Sierra Negra area of Coin and rapidly spread south and west, aided by strong winds, high temperatures and Spain’s driest winter in 70 years.
And as life begins to return to some degree of normality, expats have been recounting the terror caused by the fires.
Roger and Nancy Holdsworth had their €380,000 two-bedroom villa completely gutted by the fire in La Mairena.
“It went from paradise to hell in just ten minutes. The speed with which the fire took hold was frightening,” said 58-year-old Roger.
“There were flames and smoke billowing from the roof and the heat was spectacular.
“I was left coughing and spluttering from the smoke but we are happy to have got out alive.
“But the impact emotionally, practically and financially is going to be terrible,” he added.
Meanwhile, a group of expats has set up a website, SOS Andalucia, in an effort to provide a focus for those wishing to volunteer their services in the comings days and weeks.
“We just set it up as a group of friends wanting to do our bit but it has been incredible the way it has escalated,” a spokesman told the Olive Press.
“We are concentrating on helping and supporting people by channelling all donations to the Red Cross.
“The support has been so overwhelming it makes me want to cry.”
Have you been affected by the fires? Email [email protected]