Fire extinguished in largest settlement for ‘modern slaves’ in Huelva

by Lorraine Williamson
Huelva settlement fire

PALOS DE LA FRONTERA – In a fire that broke out on Saturday afternoon around noon in a settlement for migrant workers in Palos de la Frontera (Huelva), three people were injured and 120 people had to be evacuated. Over 150 calls were made to the emergency 112 number reporting the fire.

Firefighters confirmed two people were taken to Juan Ramón hospital in Huelva, and another person was treated on the spot. The fire was extinguished around 5.00 pm on Saturday. 

 

A total of 14 firefighters and ten vehicles of the provincial fire brigade consortium of Huelva intervened in the fire. The services were prepared with a lot of equipment as the settlement is located near a forest mass of pine forests, scrub and eucalyptus trees and next to the local industrial area. Firefighters from San Juan del Puerto, Punta Umbría and Almonte Parks were also sent to the site. 

Most intense fire in this settlement in Huelva so far 

Joaquín Marfil, deputy director of operations of the Provincial Fire Brigade Consortium of Huelva, described this fire as “the most violent” of the fires that have occurred in this settlement. This is because there was “an extraordinary thermal load due to the build-up of plastics and hydrocarbons resulting in a dense column of black smoke and flames 20-25 metres high”. 

Read also: Slum in Almería demolished without residents having an alternative 

Furthermore, the fire came within ten metres of the industrial buildings on the site. This forced the fire units to act with powerful water jets to prevent the radiant heat and sparks generated by the column of smoke from reaching surrounding sheds. “Some objects were burned but quickly extinguished,” explains Marfil. 

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Largest migrant settlement in the province 

The fire raged in the largest of the province’s migrant settlements, according to the report “Asentamientos 2022. Consequences of discrimination in settlements in the province of Huelva”, carried out by the NGO Andalucía Acoge. This organisation confirms that the affected settlement has between 400 and 1,000 inhabitants due to its proximity to the strawberry fields, other red fruits and farms. 

Modern slavery 

The organisation Jornaleras de Huelva en Lucha (day labourers from Huelva fighting) reports on its Twitter account: “The settlement in Palos de la Frontera is burning. Our colleague who has lost everything again has warned us. We have just arrived and the people are lying on the street, they don’t even have water. With 30 degrees and a lot of smoke, they breathe. If they weren’t migrants, there would have been a housing solution long ago”. The organisation fights against ‘modern slavery’ in the Spanish countryside and was founded by a number of women who want to enforce better working conditions. 

Previous fires 

Last summer there was also a fire that affected a hundred huts in the same settlement. Furthermore, another fire left 400 people homeless in 2021 and another 100 people months later. Fire in these settlements is common. The last fire in a slum in Huelva was in Lepe last December. The size of the fire was much smaller, but an investigation was opened to clarify whether the fire was deliberate. Some residents claimed that a flammable bottle was thrown from a vehicle. 

According to the fire brigade, a fire breaks out quickly in these types of neighbourhoods, both in Huelva and in other locations such as around the greenhouses in Almería. The concentration of people is high in these places. In addition, the materials with which the huts are built or reinforced are highly flammable. Moreover, the migrants who live there cook on gas burners or campfires. 

Read also: End in sight of slums for seasonal workers in Spanish strawberry cultivation 

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