MADRID – A wildfire fanned by strong winds devoured hillsides around the wealthy Mediterranean resort city of Marbella in Spain on Friday. At least one person died, two sustained burns and more than 4,000 others were forced to evacuate their homes.
A dry winter followed by a scorching hot summer has left much of southern Spain tinder dry and susceptible to fires. About 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of land in Spain has burned in nearly 12,000 wildfires so far this year.
Other European nations, including Greece, Portugal and Bosnia, also have faced blazes spawned by similar conditions.
In Spain, regional Interior Ministry official Jose Luis Ruiz Espejo said the latest fire started outside the mountainside town of Coin, northeast of Marbella, and that authorities suspect arson as the cause.
All the residents of the nearby town of Ojen were forced to evacuate as flames swept through their valley. Most spent much of the night sheltered in sports centers in Marbella.
Fernando Fernandez, mayor of the popular whitewashed hillside tourist destination town of Mijas, said many of its residents had been evacuated, but strong east winds had "fortunately for us, swept the fire westwards, toward Marbella."
Andalucia's regional government said a 78-year-old British man's charred body was found Friday "in a tool shed" near Ojen. Local police found the body while searching through the burnt embers of a house, the statement said.
Two 58-year-old people were in critical condition with burns covering more than 60 percent of their bodies, according to a regional government statement.
Jose Antonio Grinan, the regional president, said two people were being treated for burns and bruises.
Grinan said if the suspicion of arson is proven true, it would be "a criminal act."
Marbella, with its leisure craft port of Puerto Banus, is one of Europe's most luxurious seaside destinations. Its normally green hillsides are studded with mansions and palaces belonging to aristocrats, the rich and the famous.
High profile residents have included Scottish actor Sean Connery, the king of Saudi Arabia and descendants of wealthy European families such as the Bismarcks and Rothschilds.
The wildfires have challenged the capacities of several countries in Europe this summer.
Bosnia's government said Friday it was considering asking for international help after a blaze around the southern mountain of Prenj, which has burned continuously for three weeks, has left the area resembling a smoking volcano.
Ciaran Giles contributed to this report.