Portsmouth woman tells of holiday devastated by wildfires in Spain

A Portsmouth woman is among British holiday makers caught in devastating wildfires in Spain.

Monday, 5th September 2016, 5:22 pm
Updated Monday, 5th September 2016, 6:56 pm
A wildfire raging in Javea near Benidorm, Spain, that has forced the evacuation of around 2,000 people. Claire Edwards/PA Wire

The fires just miles from Benidorm in Spain have forced the evacuation of thousands of people, many of them British holidaymakers and expats.

People left their homes and hotels for shelter as the flames burned through the province of Alicante on Sunday night and into Monday morning.

Planes flew overhead dropping water as witnesses described the situation as like a “warzone”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The fire was started deliberately as an act of arson, according to local media reports and officials.

Portsmouth’s Rosie Brown was staying in a holiday home near Xabia on the Costa Blanca when the blaze spread to undergrowth near their property.

She told the Daily Mail: At around 1am the local police arrived at our villa and we were told we needed to leave immediately as the fire was ‘really close’ and we could smell the burning.

‘It was a very frightening experience for everyone and we were directed to Benitatxell infant school being used as a refuge centre.’

Stephanie Cooper, 21, from Pinosol - around 25 miles from Benidorm, said the air was heavy with smoke and described hearing explosions.

She said many as 2,000 people had been evacuated, including scores of Britons from hotels in the area - and said new blazes started at nearby La Granadella and Cumbre del Sol on Monday morning.

Police told everyone to leave their homes at around 7pm on Sunday night, forcing people to sleep in cars and emergency shelters.

Ms Cooper said strong winds had blown the flames towards her house on Sunday evening.

Pictures show her neighbours’ garden scorched black, though the house itself was not affected.

Claire Edwards, 39, a presenter on Overseas FM who lives in Javea, said: ‘This morning it was like waking up in Vietnam with so many aircraft in the skies.’

She said more than 1,000 homes were evacuated and said many fires had been extinguished, but the ‘dry ground’ and ‘stupidly hot temperatures’ had led to further blazes breaking out.

Volunteer firefighter Leo Gomez, from Benissa, said a lot of people were made homeless.

He said: ‘Luckily I do not have housing in the burned area. The experience was very sad to see how something so beautiful is destroyed before you without doing more.

‘The feeling of being there was terror, helplessness, fear, a set of bad feelings by not being able to do more - images that will never be forgotten.’

Spanish authorities said more than 200 firefighters, with 65 vehicles, were sent to deal with the wildfire on Monday.

Local authority official Jose Maria Angel said the fire was likely an act of arson and that the hottest day of the year was chosen deliberately.

He added: ‘Everything appears to indicate that the forest fire that has affected various residential areas around Alicante could have been intentional.’

Miss Cooper, who is from Surrey but has lived in Spain for 12 years, said she was retreating west to the village of Gata de Gorgos as the fire was ‘out of control’.

She claimed the number of areas being evacuated around Javea was ‘growing by the minute’ and said hundreds of troops and around 20 ‘air units’ were mainly focusing their efforts on Granadella to the south-east.

Lots of people had to leave pets when being evacuated, she said, with workers at the Apasa kennels staying overnight to look after cats and dogs.

An update on the Apasa kennels Facebook page at around 8am said they were full and that the dogs were all OK.

Nicola Franklin, who lives in Costa Nova in Javea and owns a clothing shop called Heaven Boutique, described seeing flames ‘in the distance’ on Sunday night but waking up at about ‘5.30am to the sound of sirens and the flames were much closer’.

After being evacuated to a friend’s house, she returned in the morning and said: ‘Everything was charred and smouldering, with no-one around due to the evacuation - it was eerie.’

Miss Franklin said there was lots of fire damage to gardens and fences and ‘signs of scorching’ on her shop, but thankfully ‘the buildings are still standing’.

She added: ‘The local community has pulled together magnificently in true ‘Blitz spirit’ - people have been opening their homes to those in need, and keeping everyone updated via social media.

‘The emergency services have been amazing, including our local Bomberos Voluntarios who worked 18 hours during the night, trying to keep the fire under control.

‘The fire has now increased in the Granadella National Park, so we’re still waiting to see whether our house will be safe later today.’

The fire became more severe in the afternoon and moved toward populated areas in Cumbre del Sol, around seven miles south of Javea, the Spanish civil guard said.

The guard said they were now working to evacuate the popular holiday site near the coastline.

John White, from Leicestershire, had only received the keys to his new villa in Javea last Tuesday before being forced out on Sunday evening as flames drew closer.

He said: ‘We are still not allowed to go back to the area as there are still fires burning.

‘It is very frustrating not knowing if our villa is OK, but we have no criticism of the police or anybody, the other Spanish people have been so friendly. We have huge respect for the way they are managing the situation.

‘We are intending to stay till sometime in November, we will then go back to our home in Leicestershire in the UK and return sometime in February or March next year.

‘Looks like another night at my friend Adrian’s. All we have with us is our passports and money. Most important thing is that we are all safe.’

A Facebook group was set up by community members to help victims of the blaze. Residents offered food, water, clothing and shelter to people who had been forced to leave their hotels and villas.

One user posted: ‘I live in the Jalon Valley I have one double room with double bed for Javea fire victims, animals welcome too. Will drive and pick up if necessary at no cost.’

The civil guard also said it had evacuated a stranded elderly British couple who had five children with them.