Wildfire under control near Spain's Marbella

MADRID Mon Sep 3, 2012 5:32am EDT

A boy takes a picture with a tablet of a burnt down residential area in Sitio de Calahonda, near Malaga, southern Spain, August 31, 2012. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

A boy takes a picture with a tablet of a burnt down residential area in Sitio de Calahonda, near Malaga, southern Spain, August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jon Nazca

MADRID (Reuters) - Firefighters on Saturday tamed a wildfire that had threatened villages outside the upmarket beach resort of Marbella on southern Spain's Costa del Sol, allowing about 4,000 evacuees to start returning to their homes and hotels.

The fire killed a 78-year-old British man, and a couple in their fifties were treated for serious burns.

More than 400 firefighters and members of the military fought the flames overnight, using eight helicopters and airplanes to help drench the flames after they came close to several small towns.

The threatened villages included Ojen, a village of white buildings perched on a mountainside where most of the evacuees came from.

Officials reopened the highway between Marbella and Ojen on Saturday morning and were allowing evacuees to return, said a spokeswoman for the government of the Andalucia region.

The fire broke out on Thursday in the hills above the tourist mecca of Marbella and raced south and west through tinder-dry hilly countryside, fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

Officials said it was the worst fire in memory in Malaga, a coastal province in Andalucia region.

Every year millions of tourists visit the Costa del Sol, or Sun Coast, famed for its beaches and nightlife. Hundreds of thousands of expatriates from northern Europe live on the coastal belt.

Unusually dry weather in Spain has resulted in wildfires burning thousands of hectares of land this summer, and temperatures have hit record highs in some regions.

Thousands of people were evacuated earlier this month in the Canary Islands, while four people died in fires in the border area between France and Catalonia, in northeast Spain, in July.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Roger Atwood)