Valencia fire: Nine bodies found as Spanish police search gutted flats

February 23, 2024  –Firefighters and forensic authorities in Spain say nine bodies have been recovered from the ruins of a 14-floor apartment complex after fire tore through it in Valencia.

Officials earlier said 10 had been killed, but later said one was missing.

The cladding attached to the outside of the building as well as high winds are being blamed for the flames taking hold of the building in a matter of minutes.

Officials have refused to answer questions on the cause of the fire.

The fire is thought to have taken hold on the fourth floor of the larger of the two 14-storey blocks, engulfing it in minutes and then spreading to the adjacent one.

Firefighters were unable to reach higher than the 12th floor as the flames burned at a terrifying pace through a layer of cladding, attached to the building under a very thin layer of aluminium.

The College of Industrial Technical Engineers of Valencia said that was one of the possible causes of the fire, coupled with the strong winds and high temperatures in Valencia on Thursday evening.

“The reason the [building] burned so fast is because of this type of cladding,” said Esther Puchades, the college vice president who said she had previously inspected the building.

Although the aluminium-covered panels were not considered combustible, that type of cladding was allowed under building regulations at the time of the building, which was finished in 2008, but has since been banned.

But there was no programme to strip the banned cladding away, which was what happened in the UK following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, where the process continues.

The charred shells of the two adjoining buildings in the Campenar neighbourhood were all that remained as investigators searched the interior.

Initially on Friday they had to use drones until the temperatures had cooled down. Wisps of smoke could still be seen coming out from the top of the ravaged apartment blocks.

It was not until after midday on Friday that firefighters were able to enter the charred ruin of the flats

As the scale of the tragedy was confirmed, stories emerged of individual heroism as the fire tore through the facade of the building leaving residents trapped.

One of the caretakers, a man named only as Julián, was widely praised for rushing from door to door as the fire took hold in an attempt to get people to safety.

One resident called Manuel said he had been at home in the block of flats when he saw the fire spread.

“When I saw the flames passing through the sheet metal and told my mother and the neighbours inside who didn’t know. We all went down the stairs,” he told Spanish TV.

Within 10 to 15 minutes they had become shrouded in a black cloud, he said.

Among the 15 people hurt, several were firefighters and by Friday evening two of them remained in hospital, although their lives were not in danger.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the site of the gutted blocks of flats promising aid to local authorities in their response to the tragedy. “We would like to express our solidarity, love and empathy to the families of the victims of this terrible fire,” he said.

Science Minister Diana Morant added: “We are here for whatever is needed.”

The head of the Valencia regional government Carlos Mazón said he was working with the city authority to provide housing and basic needs to those whose homes have been destroyed.

In all, 138 flats housing 450 people were devastated by the fire.

Valencians have been gathering food, clothing and toiletries for the displaced survivors of the fire.

Saturday’s La Liga match at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium has been postponed as a mark of respect for the victims. The club said it was devastated by the terrible fire on the city’s Avenida Maestro Rodrigo.

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