Spain Wildfire Leaves 1 Dead Near Marbella (PHOTOS)

08/31/2012 12:28 pm ET

MADRID -- A wildfire fanned by strong winds devoured hillsides around the wealthy southern Mediterranean resort city of Marbella in Spain on Friday. One person died, two suffered burns and some 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. The country has seen 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of land 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."

The regional government of Andalucia said an elderly man's charred body was found Friday "in a tool shed" near Ojen. 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.

The government of Bosnia 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 in Madrid contributed to this report