Two to face court over forest fire

Two to face court over forest fire 

25 September 2005

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A British man and French woman blamed for starting a massive forest fire are expected to appear in court again this week.

Michael Hanks, 59, from Colchester, Essex, and his 50-year-old companion are suspected of starting the blaze in the Granada region of southern Spain.

It is understood the pair were hiking through national park land near Granada when they became lost just before nightfall on Thursday.

They raised the alarm with a mobile telephone and then decided to light a small fire as a beacon to alert Civil Guard mountain rescue patrols searching for them.

The beacon worked and they were soon rescued. But the fire raged out of control and spread through the tinder-dry forest at the height of a severe drought.

By early afternoon on Friday more than 150 firemen with 25 appliances, backed up by seven helicopters and five fire-fighting aircraft, were tackling the blaze. Reinforcements, including five more aircraft and two helicopters, were also called to fight the flames.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “They have been released without bail. They have got to stay in the country until the judge has enough information. They are gathering enough information to see if there is a case or not.”

The couple must to report to a court in the Granada province every three days. It is understood no specific charges have been levelled against the pair as the judge is waiting for further investigations to be carried out.

Last Monday new figures were released by Spain’s government showing a big increase in land destroyed by wildfires this year compared with the same period last year, with rainfall at its lowest since record-keeping began.

Seventeen people have died this year as a result of forest fires in Spain, including 11 firefighters who died in a massive blaze that was sparked by a barbecue fire in the central province of Guadalajara last month.


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