15 Sep, 2021 @ 19:30
5 mins read

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Like a horror movie’ as expat animal charity bosses fled Spain’s Sierra Bermeja wildfire while rescuing dozens of dogs

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THE boss of the Costa del Sol’s most famous animal rescue centre has recalled the dramatic moment she and her husband had to evacuate their shelter as Andalucia’s biggest wildfire for decades raced towards them.

Overcome with emotion, Susie Brown, the president of ADANA (Association for the rights of abandoned animals), revealed how they had been ordered to retreat immediately after the wind changed on Sunday sending the Sierra Bermeja blaze directly towards them.

“Everyone was so scared,” said Brown sadly, who said that the miracle of the shelter remaining intact was due to “Somebody watching us”. 

Speaking to the Olive Press on her first trip back to the shelter that was engulfed in flames and partly destroyed,the British mother of one, added: if they had evacuated even half an hour later ‘we couldn’t have made it’.

It was one of the most chilling interviews, walking with Brown and husband/treasurer Reg Winkworth, with the entire valley around them obliterated by the blaze that had ended up destroying 10,000 hectares over six days.

Driving up to the shelter in the Parque de los Pedregales, on the border of Estepona and Casares, the absolute devastation was all too clear.

The surrounding forest was decimated, while a few small areas were still smouldering in the Tuesday morning aftermath. 

The ‘sixth generation’ wildfire, which was only finally extinguished largely thanks to the rain, had also laid waste to the shelter’s outbuilding which held around €10,000 worth of items used for events, including furniture and medical supplies.  

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Image: Destroyed outbuilding – Elena Gocmen Rueda

It would, however, have been a lot worse if the charity had not cut down a big fire break around the plot last year.

The shelter had to be evacuated on Sunday after strong winds fanned the flames and they began to crawl down the mountain towards the shelter at around 8am. 

Brown and Winkworth, the association’s treasurer, said they were constantly monitoring the situation through their CCTV cameras fitted around the property and even “slept here for two nights”. 

ADANA had luckily put an emergency evacuation plan in place with a list of people to get in touch with if the shelter was at risk. 

However news of the shelter’s struggle was published on social media with posters saying ‘get to ADANA, quickly, they need help with the evacuation’ and soon hordes of volunteers began to turn up along with children in tow. 

It turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help, with Winkworth describing the scene as ‘surreal’ and like ‘a horror movie’. 

Despite the goodwill of the volunteers it actually made it a lot more difficult for the dogs to be evacuated, as the access tracks became a tangled mess.

With the tracks being so narrow, workers struggled to get by in their vans carrying the animals. 

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Image: The narrow road leading up to the shelter – Elena Gocmen Rueda

But by incredible fortune they managed to put the last two dogs into vans just before police and firefighters ordered them out.

We got out “by the skin of our teeth,” Brown revealed, as tears rolled down her cheeks. 

She continued that firefighters had told them they would have to sacrifice the shelter and let it burn as they didn’t have enough manpower to protect it. “It was an 85 mile perimeter, there were a thousand soldiers and 400 firemen and 40 airplanes but they just couldn’t cope” said Brown.

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Image: ADANA shelter amidst destroyed forest – Elena Gocmen Rueda

She added it was ‘a miracle’ that the shelter was still standing.

‘‘People were praying for us and I think it worked,” she insisted.

Walking around the shelter to assess the damage, they described the silence as ‘the weirdest feeling’, as the usually lively shelter that can house up to 150 dogs was completely empty. There were ashes covering the floor that had been blown in from the spaces under the doors and through the holes in the roof.

Sadly the pipes that provide water have been destroyed, meaning the dogs can’t return until this is fixed. 

Luckily they have a 19,000-litre reserve tank that will be able to help them in the meantime while they seek to get new pipes installed.

The outer fences that are usually used to contain dogs in case they run away were also completely burnt along with the thermal winter beds that help to keep the dogs warm later in the year. Winkworth said that they `were very efficient at storing things but the fire has overtaken us”.

Brown added through tears “we’re desperate”, whilst she spoke about the sheer amount they had lost during the fire.

Volunteers are set to return on Wednesday morning to begin the slow process of clearing the debris and trying to begin to return the place to normal.

For now, the dogs are being safely housed with 60 different families along the coast.”People were amazing, we have the best supporters”, Brown said.

They were also keen to slam a series of fake news stories that spread about them having chosen to abandon ‘angry dogs’ and horses at the shelter,  which caused even more issues for them as they received many calls complaining about this. They even received a message from an English newspaper asking ‘ Why did you let your horses burn?’ 

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Image: Warning sign outside ADANA property – Amber Edirisinghe

They are also now praying that the valley will regrow once again. And they point out that last October parts of the bottom of the mountain were burnt and now the trees are back in full flourish. 

“These endemic species have survived for millions of years without need for human intervention,” insisted Reg.

It was largely due to the planning of staff who had experienced fires nearby the previous year that made sure they could have a fire break installed which meant that the shelter itself survived the flames. 

“If we didn’t have a fire break the shelter would’ve been ‘burnt to the ground’,” added Brown.

Winkworth meanwhile stressed that this incident should act as a warning to allow people to be allowed to cut fire breaks as it could save their properties.

Finally, Brown said that she really wanted to thank all of the generous volunteers for their ‘phenomenal response’ to help out the dogs. 

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Image: Scorched ground with dogs ball still intact- Elena Gocmen Rueda

However she stressed that they are going to have to sort out the clearing themselves, saying that ‘no matter how kind and well meaning people are, please stay at home’. 

But they are going to need help paying for what they’ve lost so the best way to help ADANA right now is to donate.

You can donate by direct debit or credit card using the Paypal system on their website www.adana.es. Or you can make a bank transfer/ deposit at the bank detailed below

Bank: Unicaja

Branch: Sabinillas Málaga

Account No: 2103 0176 0700 3002 9002

IBAN: ES67 2103 0176 0700 3002 9002


People can also visit their shop in Estepona to donate money. 

Please contact [email protected] if you have any other fire stories to report.


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