At least 10 people were killed by a huge fire that ripped through an apartment block in an affluent district of Spain’s third largest city Valencia, authorities said yesterday.
The blaze, fanned by strong winds, engulfed the block within half an hour on Thursday evening, witnesses said.
Firefighters with masks and oxygen tanks worked their way through the charred building yesterday looking for bodies or survivors.
Valencia Mayor Maria Jose Catala said later in the day that there were no more missing people.
“In a first visual inspection, 10 bodies were found in the building,” Pilar Bernabe, the central government’s representative for the Valencia region, told reporters.
Two firefighters suffered serious injuries and were hospitalised.
Valencians flocked to donate clothes, medicines and toys for surviving residents who lost all their belongings in the fire and are now being temporarily housed in a nearby hotel.
Valencia’s mayor said 105 people had been rehoused and a regional official said they would receive money for daily costs and rent.
Visiting the scene yesterday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said residents “had lost everything in a matter of minutes in this terrible fire”.
Local people took stock of the devastation, their faces grim with shock.
“Luckily it was at a time when a lot of people were not home, some were working, others had gone to pick up their kids at school,” said Juan Bautista, a 70-year-old pensioner who was in a wheelchair. “If it was later, or at dinner, there would have been many more fatalities.”
Slava Honcharenko, a 31-year-old Ukrainian, said he knew several families of compatriots who had lived in the building.
They had been relocated to a hotel since Thursday night.
“We feel very bad. We know what it is when you lose your house because we experienced this two years ago in Ukraine,” he told AFP.
Emergency services said the fire began on the fourth floor of one of the towers but gave no cause.
A local magistrate has opened an investigation into the blaze.
Sergio Perez, a 49-year-old driver who lives nearby, said the building burned as if someone had “poured gasoline” on it.
“It’s a catastrophe. Unimaginable. It’s devastating,” he said.
Esther Puchades, a representative of insurance inspection agency APCAS, told RTVE that a lack of firewalls and use of the plastic material polyurethane on the facade would have contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze, a comment evoking memories of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017.
A 2007 promotional video by the building’s developer highlighted the “innovative material” used to clad the building’s exterior, which passed “rigorous quality checks”.
The association for the polyurethane industry said in a statement that no polyurethane was used in the building’s cladding.
The spread of the 2017 fire in the Grenfell Tower block in west London that killed 71 people after an electrical fault was blamed on the use of highly flammable external cladding.
Dental experts headed to Valencia from other parts of Spain to help identify charred bodies, while police collected DNA samples from relatives for the same purpose.
Pope Francis was praying for all those affected by the blaze, his spokesman said.
The wind was so strong at times that it had blown back the water unleashed by firefighting hoses, a policeman said.
On the day after, an acrid smell hung in the air at the site of the fire in Valencia’s El Campanar district.
Panicked residents had rushed to balconies to plead for help as burning embers fell to the ground during the fire. At least two people were rescued from their balconies on cranes.
“I told my daughter and mother-in-law to leave, other people stayed inside,” a resident called Adriana told Reuters.
The building, comprising two towers linked by what its developers described as a “panoramic lift”, was completed in 2008, officials said.
It had 138 apartments, newspaper El Pais reported.
Valencia decreed three days of mourning, cancelled local football matches and suspended the start of the city’s month-long, annual “Fallas” festival which features the torching of large cardboard statues and a fireworks display.
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