A PASSER-BY who spotted a man setting fire to scrubland saved a natural park from potential ‘catastrophe’.

National police raced to the scene when a citizen called to say he had seen a man setting two fires in the Montes de Malaga Natural Park at 9pm on Sunday.

While INFOCA forest firefighters tackled the blazes, the officers scoured the area for the culprit.

Several hikers pointed them to a remote spot where they had seen a man who fitted the description given by the original witness.

Sierra Bermeja
A firefighter tackling last year’s Sierra Bermeja blaze. INFOCA says Sunday’s Montes de Malaga fires could have spun out of control and become ‘catastrophic’.

After 30 minutes of searching, they found a man who was crouched in front of a pile of branches with a lighter in his hand. A bottle filled with a flammable liquid was next to him.

The INFOCA agents who came to extinguish the fires said that a ‘catastrophe’ had been narrowly averted.

The detainee has been handed over into the custody of a Malaga court.

The natural park covers 5,000 hectares of reforested land that is home to genets, badgers, foxes and many species of lizard, as well as eagles, goshawks, and sparrowhawks.

Spain is at high risk of forest fires each summer, with the vast majority of blazes started by man, whether deliberately or accidentally. Some 46% are attributed to arsonists, according to official statistics.

Last year a wildfire raged for six days and destroyed nearly 10,000 hectares of woodland before being brought under control in the Sierra Bermeja inland from the Costa del Sol, with investigators suspecting arson.

Despite having a perimeter of 85 kilometres, it was only the ninth biggest blaze Spain has seen this century.

It paled in comparison to the Minas de Riotinto blaze between Huelva and Sevilla in the summer of 2004 which destroyed 29,867 hectares across 13 municipalities and killed two people.

wildfire catalunya costa brava
Forest fires are a serious risk every summer

The second worst fire this century broke out at a welding workshop in 2012 in Corte de Pallas, in Valencia, devastating 28,879 hectares. Another blaze in 2021 in Cepeda La Mora, near Avila, which started when a car burst into flames, saw 21,993 hectares destroyed over eight days.

And back in 2012, a wildfire in Andilla, Valencia, saw some 20,064 hectares scorched. That same year Castrocontrigo, in Leon, had a fire ravage 11,592 hectares. In 2005, a fire in the province of Guadalajara torched 10,352 hectares.

Next comes a 2017 fire in Encinedo (Leon) which burnt 9,820 hectares, while a fire in Quesada, in Jaen, saw 9,756 hectares burnt in 2015. A 2012 fire in Malaga, which razed 8250 hectares, was the tenth biggest.

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