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Wildfires in Spain claim elderly victim

Spain's worst drought in decades has brought wildfires to the glitzy Spanish coastal resort of Marbella. Flames in mountain tree tops forced thousands to flee and left an elderly man dead.

Wildfires that broke out near Malaga late on Thursday sprinted west towards Marbella, affecting half a dozen housing estates and killing one.

The burnt body of an elderly man was discovered in Ojen, north of Marbella and a man and a woman in their fifties were rushed to the city’s Costa del Sol hospital with burns, said the regional government of Andalusia.

Provincial government chief Elias Bendodo said 250 firefighters were battling the blaze, backed by eight planes and nine helicopters.

"We can say there are thousands of people evacuated, mostly as a precautionary measure," Bendodo told RNE public radio. "Homes have been damaged."

A statement issued by the government of the region of Andalucia on Friday said humid air had since helped the firefighters get the flames under control. "The fire may be stabilized in the next few hours," it said.

A light aircraft sprays water with an extinguishing agent over a forest fire along a motorway in Calahonda, Malaga, southern Spain, 31 August 2012.

Costa del Sol Waldbrände

The mayor of Mijas, Angel Nozal, said the blaze with flames up to 15 meters (16.4 yards) high was dreadful. Mijas is a city of 79,000 inhabitants between Malaga and Marbella.

"This is without doubt the worst fires that we have ever experienced in Malaga," he said.

They are just the latest in a series of blazes across Spain this summer after its driest winter in 70 years.

Three-fold compared to 2011

Earlier in August, a wildfire ravaged 10 percent of Spain's Canary Island of La Gomera, including a rare nature reserve, and forced thousands to flee.

Critics said firefighting efforts had been hampered by budget cuts as Spain tries to trim its budget deficit as part of EU efforts to reign in eurozone debt.

Spain's agriculture ministry says wildfires have scarred 140,000 hectares (354,000 acres) of landscape between the start of the year and mid-August. That is three times the area scarred compared to 2011 and the largest area damage in a decade.

Spain's Mediterranean Costa del Sol region attracts millions of foreign tourists each year. Hundreds of thousands of expatriates including Germans, Britons, French and Scandinavians live in the coastal belt.

ipj/pfd (dpa, AFP, Reuters)