World

Death toll rises to nine after apartment block fire in Valencia

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised support for those affected.

Firefighters work at a burned building in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP)
Firefighters work at a burned building in Valencia, Spain Firefighters work at a burned building in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP) (Alberto Saiz/AP)

The death toll in a fire that engulfed an apartment block in the Spanish city of Valencia has risen to nine as questions were raised about whether construction materials caused the fire to spread so rapidly.

One person remained missing, according to forensic police, who after identification procedures downgraded the death toll from an official’s account of 10 provided earlier following a visual count of remains.

The fire started on Thursday evening and quickly engulfed the two residential buildings.

Neighbours described seeing the rapid spread of the blaze, residents stuck on balconies and hearing children screaming.

A housing block burns in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP)
A housing block burns in Valencia, Spain A housing block burns in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP) (Alberto Saiz/AP)

“I have no words to describe the suffering of those poor people,” said Sara Plaza.

Police found nine bodies in the gutted residential buildings.

Valencia’s national government delegate confirmed that the bodies matched the list of people that authorities had been trying to locate and that one person remained missing.

Neighbour Alejandra Alarcon said that it took 15 minutes for the fire to engulf the entire building as questions abounded as to how the fire spread so rapidly.

Firefighters work at a burned block building in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP)
Firefighters work at a burned block building in Valencia, Spain Firefighters work at a burned block building in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP) (Alberto Saiz/AP)

Experts suggested that a type of cladding might have made the blaze spread faster, but Valencia mayor Maraa Jose Catala said the cause of the fire was still not known and it was too early to comment on whether some materials used in construction of the modern complex might have contributed.

The vice-president of the Valencia College of Industrial and Technical Engineers, Esther Puchades, who once inspected the building, told state news agency Efe that the cladding used included polyurethane and when “heated it is like plastic and it ignites”.

She said it was the first fire of its type in Spain, but that other blazes involving the material have been similarly destructive in the UK and China.

The IPUR, Spain’s polyurethane manufacturers’ association, issued a statement contesting Ms Puchades’ claim, saying there was no evidence that polyurethane was used in the Valencia building’s facade.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the site of the 14-storey building burned down in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the site of the 14-storey building burned down in Valencia, Spain Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the site of the 14-storey building burned down in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP) (Alberto Saiz/AP)

The June 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in London, which had similar cladding, caused 72 deaths.

Fifteen people were treated for injuries and two remained in hospital. Both were said to be stable.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the scene, promising support for those affected and expressing gratitude to firefighters and military personnel who worked to extinguish the blaze.

Pope Francis also sent a telegram of condolences.

It was not immediately known how many people were in the two buildings when the fire broke out, but dozens are believed to have lost their homes and belongings. The complex had some 140 apartments.

Firefighters spray water on a housing block as it burns in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP)
Firefighters spray water on a housing block as it burns in Valencia, Spain Firefighters spray water on a housing block as it burns in Valencia, Spain (Alberto Saiz/AP) (Alberto Saiz/AP)

The Valencia regional government declared three days of mourning and announced financial aid to cover accommodation, clothing and food.

Weekend football games involving Valencia and Levante have been postponed after both clubs requested not to play in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the Spanish league said.

Residents were housed overnight in hotels or in the homes of relatives and neighbours, authorities said. Neighbours also responded by donating clothes and food in shops for the survivors.

Firefighters rushed to the scene on the outskirts of the city as flames burst from windows. They used a crane to lift two residents from one of the balconies.

Some 90 soldiers from Spain’s Military Emergency Unit and 40 firefighting trucks also were deployed.

The fire sent clouds of black smoke billowing skywards that could be seen from miles away. Spain’s weather agency, Aemet, reported winds of up to 40mph at the time.