Fire in Valencia building claims at least 4 lives and 19 people are missing

Polyurethane in facade cladding played a crucial role in the rapid spread of fire

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Valencia fire

The number of victims of the fire in a fourteen-storey apartment building in the city of Valencia has risen. At least four people have lost their lives. Nineteen people have been reported missing by their relatives. There are fears that the death toll from this catastrophe will rise even further.

The fire broke out on the fourth floor of the building at 5.20 pm yesterday. The flames spread throughout the entire building within half an hour, partly due to the strong wind and high temperatures. The blaze and subsequent explosions inside the building and near the facade created a terrifying scene, with burning parts of the facade falling down.

Residents in need

While firefighters worked to get the fire under control, several residents were trapped in the building. Images circulated on social media of residents fleeing to balconies in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. Two people were rescued from their balcony by the fire brigade. The four fatalities were found outside on their balconies by a helicopter crew. The building was too hot for emergency services to enter. The fire brigade is still working to cool it down. Six firefighters were also reported among the injured.

Massive deployment of emergency services

Sixteen fire brigade units and five ambulances were deployed to fight the fire. The fire, which occurred in the Camanar district north of Valencia city centre, also required the deployment of the UME military emergency response unit, which is normally deployed in large forest fires. A field hospital was set up next to the building as a precaution,

Solidarity

Many local residents immediately showed solidarity and launched relief efforts for supplies and shelter. The nearby Mercadona remained open well past its normal closing time to provide food and drink to those affected and the emergency services. Thirty residents of the building were accommodated in the Valencia Plaza hotel, which made rooms available to help victims of the fire.

Residential tower quickly turned into torch

The relatively new building, which housed 138 apartments, resembled a gigantic torch. Flammable material from the facade fell burning to the ground and continued to burn there, fanned by the wind. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

City in mourning

The government of the Valencia region cancelled its agenda for today. The municipality, together with the organisation of the Fallas parties, has decided to cancel all activities that would take place in this regard this coming weekend. Carlos Mazón, regional president, and María José Catalá, the mayor of Valencia, met with the emergency services on Friday morning. The municipality has announced three days of official mourning. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez expressed his condolences for all those affected on X (formerly Twitter).

Extremely flammable facade cladding

El Mundo writes that a highly flammable material may have significantly worsened the catastrophe. The newspaper spoke to an expert in insurance assessment and familiar with the structure of the affected building. According to him, the use of polyurethane in the cladding played a crucial role in the rapid spread of the fire. The high temperatures and strong winds on Thursday added to this. The highly flammable material was located behind the panel of the ventilation facade. This effectively turned the residential tower into a “torch” once it caught fire. The block was built in 2005, a time when materials such as polyurethane were used for their thermal efficiency, despite known risks of flammability.

Flammable building materials

According to radio station CadenaSER, this raises questions regarding the safety of building materials used. It is also reminiscent of the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in 2017, which killed 72 people and injured 74. The fire was caused by a short circuit in a refrigerator in a house on the fourth floor. Investigation into the cause of the fire revealed that the facade of this 1974 tower was covered with polyethylene as the main element during a renovation in 2015 – 2016 to save costs. After this fire, the use of this material and similar components was banned by the European Union due to its high flammability. Afterwards it turned out that no fewer than 16,000 private apartments in London were clad with polyethylene. CadenaSER concludes that the Spanish government must urgently investigate how many buildings in Spain have used these types of flammable materials.

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