Cladding under suspicion as four die in Valencia tower blaze

The towers burning yesterday evening in the Nou Campanar neighbourhood of Valencia (Image via the X account of Spain’s Policía Nacional)
At least four people were killed and between nine and 15 are missing after fire engulfed a high-rise apartment complex in the southern Spanish city of Valencia. A further 15 were injured, including seven firefighters, but their conditions are not thought to be life-threatening.

The fire broke out early Thursday evening at two 14-storey apartment blocks in the Nou Campanar neighbourhood in the north of the city centre. Firefighters used cranes to rescue some of the 450 residents who were trapped on the upper floors of the buildings.

A spokesperson for the fire service said that as the firefighters entered the buildings and opened hall doors, the fire flashed across the front of the building and trapped them behind a wall of flame.

A group of them had to break into a flat to escape the intense heat.

There are fears that flammable cladding on the building’s facade may have played a part in the rapid spread of the fire. This was the case in the 2017 tragedy at the Grenfell Tower in west London, in which 72 people died.

It is believed that many lives were saved by the actions of a concierge, who banged on the residents’ doors shouting “fire” and ordering them to leave the building. A father and daughter who were trapped on a balcony were among those rescued by an extendable crane.

Luis Ibanez, an eyewitness to the conflagration, told Spanish broadcaster TVE that he had looked out of a window and seen the flames engulfing the block “within a matter of minutes … as if it was made of cork”.

He added: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The whole side of the building directly opposite was on fire.”

It is reported that the wind in the city was blowing at 60km/h, which would have played a part in fanning the flames.

One man who lives on the second floor of the building told TV channel La Sexta that the flames raced through the building from an apartment on the fourth floor.

He said: “The fire spread in a matter of 10 minutes”, and blamed the cladding for giving the flames a route up the building.

The fire is now extinguished, but the emergency services are surveying the building to ensure it is safe to enter.

Soldiers from Spain’s Military Emergency Unit are also on the scene and medics have set up a tent to treat the injured.

Meanwhile, the Community of Valencia has called three days of mourning and has set up information points for those affected by the fire at the city hall and other public venues around the city.

The building was built in 2008, during Spain’s development boom.

The developer was Fbex, which declared bankruptcy in 2010 owing €640m.

The development was marketed as having “excellent materials and the highest finish quality”, including “an innovative aluminium cladding of the ‘alucobond’ type”.

It is believed that this cladding, which is made up of two aluminium sheets around a core, will be examined to see if it played a role in the spread of the fire, as was the case in the Grenfell blaze.

Esther Puchades, vice president of the College of Industrial Technical Engineers of Valencia, told newspaper El País that she had inspected the building some years before.

She said some of the facade materials had plastic components.

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