A GARDENER accused of starting a massive forest fire that swept across the Costa del Sol in 2012 is facing seven-and-a-half years in jail.

More than 10 years after the blaze that killed two, hurt four, destroyed or damaged 347 properties and burned more than 8,500 hectares in Mijas, Marbella, Ojen, Monda and Alhaurin el Grande, the trial of the man being held responsible has finally started.

The gardener – who has not been officially named by Malaga court – denies that he set fire to prunings in the garden of a property in Barranco Blanco (Coin) then left the fire unattended and returned to his home.

Mijas fire

He admits being on the property that day to carry out maintenance tasks for the Belgian home owner, who was away at the time.

The trial is due to last until June.

The Environmental Prosecutor’s Office is requesting the jail term, with the man accused of recklessly starting a forest fire and two counts of reckless homicide and one of causing injury.

In a defence statement he denied the prosecution case and explained that on August 30, 2012 he was cleaning the pool and watering plants, but had not started a bonfire.

A Guardia Civil officer who investigated the fire told the court that at least three witnesses point to the estate where the accused was working as the seat of the fire.

He also expressed surprise at a report commissioned by Alhaurin el Grande Town Hall which contradicted the official investigations. The accused also worked for the town hall and is a relative of the mayor.

The cost of the fire in terms of damage caused and fire fighting expenses is estimated at nearly €30million, with the Belgian homeowner potentially also liable.

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