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Flaming inferno in Valencia: death toll rises to 10

Flaming inferno in Valencia: death toll rises to 10
It is now assumed that 10 people have died after a major fire in a high-rise building in Valencia.
Image: JOSE JORDAN (AFP)

“We can confirm that the police have identified ten deaths after an initial search,” the central government representative in the autonomous community of Valencia, Pilar Bernabé, told journalists on Friday. So far, five deaths had been reported in the major fire on Thursday. Four bodies had already been recovered the previous night.

  • More on the subject: Major fire in Valencia: high-rise building resembled a torch

It was a couple and their two children, as the newspaper “La Vanguardia” reported, citing investigative circles. The death of a fifth person was confirmed on Friday. Valencia’s mayor, María José Catalá, said early in the day that up to 15 residents of the residential complex that had completely burned out the day before were still missing. The number of injured was reported to be up to 15. The fire broke out the day before in one of the 143 apartments in the modern building complex.

Spain in shock

Spain was in shock after the fire disaster in the Mediterranean metropolis. The speed with which the fire spread from one apartment to the entire complex also frightened many Spaniards. The engineer David Higuera can only explain the explosive spread of the fire with combustible parts of the facade cladding. The huge black cloud of smoke above the building can hardly be explained in any other way. Strong winds further fueled the fire.

  • A similarly devastating fire occurred in London in June 2017: London skyscraper fire: At least 17 dead in fire disaster

Millions of Spaniards live in such large residential complexes, mostly built during the construction boom before the financial crisis of 2008. These are not social housing, but often condominiums for higher demands, with a communal pool, chic green areas, elevator and underground parking. Quite a few residents of such complexes are probably taking a closer look at the facade of their home with concern.

Eyewitnesses “stunned”

Carlos and Dani, two 16-year-old boys, said they watched “stunned” from a nearby park as the fire spread towards the roof within minutes on Thursday afternoon. “It flickered along the metal plates of the facade or behind them, but always upwards,” Carlos told the newspaper El País. The two also reported people screaming for help on their balconies. When firefighters used a turntable ladder and rescue basket to rescue two residents from a balcony that was already threatened by flames, people in front of the building applauded and cheered.

The images from Valencia reminded engineer Higuera of the Grenfell fire disaster in London. In June 2017, 72 people died in a high-rise building fire. There, too, the fire had spread rapidly through the facade insulation.

The facade acted like an accelerant

According to fire protection expert Esther Puchadas, who certified the house in Valencia, the facade was insulated with polyurethane. That acted as an accelerant. In view of the fire disaster, the approval of this insulation material must be reconsidered, she told the TV station À Punt. Higuera described the insulation material as “solid gasoline.”

The full extent of the destruction became visible at first light on Friday. All that remained of the residential complex, which was completed just a few years ago and of which one wing is 14 stories high and the other is twelve stories high, are charred facades in front of a reinforced concrete framework. “Valencia has never experienced such a tragedy,” said Mayor Catalá and declared a three-day mourning period for the city.

Head of government at the scene of the accident

The fire disaster caused consternation throughout Spain. TV stations reported live in special programs. The government and opposition expressed their condolences to the victims’ families and promised support to those affected. On Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez traveled to the scene of the accident and assured those affected of state help. Some of the now homeless residents were staying with relatives or friends, others were taken to hotels and guesthouses.

Because of the major fire, the football games planned for the weekend by the city’s clubs were also canceled. The Spanish football association RFEF has granted a request from first division club Valencia CF, the club announced on Friday. The team, which is currently in eighth place in the table, should have played against Granada CF (second-to-last place in the table) on Saturday. The second division team UD Levante’s match against FC Andorra on Saturday was also canceled. Now new dates would have to be found. The Spanish league also announced that a minute’s silence for the victims would be held at all games this weekend.

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