Spanish wildfire rages for sixth day as evacuees start to return home

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A wildfire is seen from a balcony near the town of Pujerra, which was evacuated, in Cartajima, near Estepona, Spain, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

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ESTEPONA, Spain, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Firefighters struggled on Monday to extinguish a wildfire raging for six days near a Costa del Sol resort in southern Spain, but said they finally saw encouraging signs as some of the thousands of evacuees started returning home.

"The evolution over the last few hours shows hopeful signs but we have to remain prudent," fire brigade chief Juan Sanchez of the regional forest fire agency told reporters.

About 1,000 firefighters backed by some 50 aircraft were working to put out the blaze that has already burned down 7,780 hectares (30 square miles) of forest since it broke out on Wednesday.

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Firefighters have said the wildfire has been one of the most difficult to combat in recent times in Spain.

Still, some 1,054 people who were evacuated from the resort of Estepona and the town of Benahavis last week have been allowed to return home, while several hundred people from other nearby areas are still kept away.

"We have been talking for a long time about the consequences of rural area depopulation, climate change and other phenomena. Today we are experiencing them," Sanchez said.

Fanned by strong winds, the wildfire started on Wednesday evening in the mountainous Sierra Bermeja area above Estepona, a popular spot with British tourists and retirees.

A firefighter died on Thursday while working to extinguish the fire.

Regional environment chief Carmen Crespo said on Friday the blaze appeared to have been started deliberately and investigators were working to uncover more details.

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Reporting by Jon Nazca, writing by Inti Landauro, editing by Andrei Khalip, William Maclean

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