By Wendy Williams
“HAVE you ever had to wash everything you own?” Nancy Holdsworth asks me in tears, overlooking the charred lawn of her once dream home in the hills above Marbella.
She is surrounded by piles of clothes and explains how she just can’t shake out the smell of smoke.
But tragically, that is all that remains of her two-bed home in the hills of La Mairena.
How awfully ironic that only last issue she and her husband Roger, 58, had told the Olive Press how their dog Dexter had died while being transported back to the UK.
When I saw them this week it was because their house had burnt to the ground.
“You must think we are jinxed, a disaster family,” Nancy, 66, a retired teacher, is at least able to joke.
The mother-of-three from Yorkshire has until now been spending half the year in Spain enjoying her retirement.
“But now everything is gone except for a few smokey old clothes.
“It was our dream home, completely idyllic, but now totally destroyed.”
That said, if it had not been for a neighbour they would have likely gone the same way.
“We were about to go to bed when our friend came round and told us to flee,” she recalls. “He saved our lives as in a matter of minutes the
house burnt down. In fact as we ran down the drive the thatched roof caught fire.
“The heat was so intense it evaporated all the water from the swimming pool.”
Their story is typical of over 200 homeowners, who have lost their properties in the inferno.
I drove around the region on Monday trying to take in the enormity of the disaster, the biggest fire to ever hit Malaga.
While the smoke has cleared and the flames have mostly died down, what is left is a blackened version of hell.
The distant hills at first look in permanent shadow. That is until you get closer and see the charred remains of trees and smouldering undergrowth.
A sign warning you about forest fires stands unscathed, while the smell of burning is still strong.
As I make my way towards Entrerrios, near Mijas, it is like walking into Armageddon.
Everything is scorched. Parts are still smoking and there is an eerie quiet to the place.
Some of those evacuated have still not returned, while others have literally nothing to return to.
“I have lost everything,” says Sharron Cromwell, 47, who until this weekend lived in a mobile home. “There is nothing left but ashes and a chassis.
“I honestly don’t know where to go.”
It is incredible how destructive and how arbitrary nature can be, with some places completely burnt out right next to homes completely untouched.
There are many topics of conversation this week, the main one, of course, being about how it started. But many are talking about the speed that it travelled.
“We were literally running from the flames,” says mother-of-three Julie Elliott. “It was miles away, but within just two hours had come over two hills. It was really scary. I feared for my life.”
Only last year Julie, 46, who lives with her family in Entrerrios, told the Olive Press how she was desperate to find a solution after her neighbour blocked the only access path to the house.
“We would all be dead before the emergency services could reach us,” she had said at the time, comments that now seem particularly poignant.
“It was everything I had feared,” she tells me today in disbelief.
“The police were coming up the track as were leaving, but they couldn’t have reached the house.
“It was chaos, the kids went with my husband and I was going to come in my car but my husband had the keys, I couldn’t get down and the police wouldn’t let my husband back.
“In the end I had to leave my car and squeeze in with my neighbour who was leaving. For two hours I had no idea where my family was.”
Driving around the hills near Ojen and over into Coin, you can make out the foundations of what must have been someone’s home, melted
garden furniture where people dined alfresco days earlier, and scorch marks that offer no clue what was there.
But in spite of all the damage people are positive.
The atmosphere is one of trying to make the best of a bad situation.
There is a real sense of community, of coming together to rebuild what has been destroyed, and it is incredibly moving.
There is no doubt, like the phoenix from the flames; the Costa del Sol will rise again.