AUTHORITIES are describing the wildfire raging out of control in the hills above Estepona on Spain’s Costa del Sol as a ‘sixth generation’ fire, an extremely intense blaze that thrives in conditions brought about by climate change.

It is the first time in Spain’s long history of wildfires that a blaze has been categorised as a ‘sixth generation’ fire, a type that has so far only been recorded in Australia, the United States, Greece and Turkey. 

So what makes this blaze so different from all the others that occur each summer in Spain?

“We are facing the most complex fire known by the forestry extinction services in recent years,” Juan Sánchez, director of the southern Andalusia region’s anti-fire service, told reporters late Sunday.

White Smoker
White smoke cloud from the Sierra Bermeja wildfire

“We have been talking a lot about the consequences of the abandonment of the rural environment and climate change,” Sánchez added. “We are seeing them today.”

The fire in the Sierra Bermeja is especially dangerous because it has created a phenomenon known as a cumulonimbus flammagenitus cloud (CbFg), also known as the pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which is a type of cumulonimbus cloud that forms above a source of heat, such as a wildfire or volcanic eruption.

It creates a pressurized accumulation of flammable material – embers and burning ash – that can explode and rain down spreading the fire even further.

According to the regional sub-director of Infoca, Alejandro García, these fires generate a condensation cloud due to the heat of the fire which, depending on the difference in temperature between the ground and the high altitudes, has a greater capacity to penetrate the atmosphere.

It is a very dangerous phenomenon for those battling the flames, as it can cause them to become suddenly trapped within a wall of flames.

Therefore, when it appears, a decision is taken from the command post to withdraw firefighters working on the ground until the smoke cloud dissipates. 

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