Deadly fire in Spain’s southern city of Valencia has grim echoes of London Grenfell Tower disaster

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Valencia, Spain — At least four people died in a huge fire that ripped through a 14-storey apartment block in Valencia, eastern Spain, and at least 14 were reported missing, with officials warning on Friday that the death toll could rise. Experts said the building, which contained 138 apartments, was covered with highly flammable cladding, which could account for the rapid spread of the blaze after it broke out on the fourth floor early Thursday evening.

Dramatic images showed clouds of black smoke as the flames consumed the high-rise in the western Campanar neighborhood of the port city.

Blaze Ravages Valencia Apartment Complex In Spain
A large fire swept through two buildings in the Campanar neighborhood of Valencia, Spain, Feb. 22, 2024.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty


“Four people have died,” Jorge Suarez Torres, deputy director of emergency services for the Valencia region, told reporters overnight.

“As of now, we have 14 people who remain untraced,” regional administrator Pilar Bernabe added on Friday, stressing that the number could change.

Valencia Mayor Maria Jose Catala had said between nine and 15 people were unaccounted for, based on information provided by police and neighbors..

Fifteen people were treated for injuries of varying degrees, including a seven-year-old child and seven firefighters. Six of the 15 were still hospitalized on Friday but their lives were not in danger, regional governor Carlos Mazon said.

Officials said 22 teams of firefighters had been called in to battle the blaze. Suarez Torres said they had not yet managed to get into the building.

SPAIN-FIRE
Firefighters inspect the aftermath of a huge fire that raged through a multi-story residential building in Valencia, Spain, killing at least four people, Feb. 23, 2024. 

JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty


“We’re trying to cool the facade. That’s our goal over the next few hours,” he said. “We can’t say when we’ll be able to get inside.”

Spanish media said rescue workers had used drones to locate the bodies of those who perished.

A preventable tragedy?

Esther Puchades, deputy head of Valencia’s Industrial Engineers Association (COGITI), told local media the fire had spread so rapidly because the building was covered with highly combustible polyurethane cladding.

Luis Ibanez, who lives nearby, told TVE he had looked out of a window and seen the flames engulfing the building “within a matter of minutes”.

“(It was) as if it was made of cork,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The whole side of the building directly opposite was on fire, from the first floor to the sixth and seventh floor.”

The fears of polyurethane cladding exacerbating the Valencia fire recalled the 2017 tragedy at London’s Grenfell Tower. In that incident, a fire at the 24-storey high-rise in west London killed 72 people. The blaze spread rapidly due to the highly combustible cladding on the block’s outside walls.

A public inquiry into the London disaster has yet to publish its final report, but it has already revealed how some of the companies that manufactured the materials used in the cladding on Grenfell continued to market their products as safe despite some employees knowing they were flammable.


U.K. faces housing crisis after deadly Grenfell Tower fire

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Among those companies was the American firm Arconic, which made the cladding on Grenfell Tower, through a French subsidiary.

Emails shared with the British inquiry showed that some Arconic employees knew of the danger of fire posed by the type of cladding used on Grenfell, but that the company continued to sell it anyway.

Arconic said soon after the blaze that it would stop making its Reynobond PE panels available for high-rise buildings, as it could not control how or on what building they were installed.

“Cladding systems contain various components selected and put together by architects, contractors, fabricators and building owners, and those parties are responsible for ensuring that the cladding systems are compliant under the appropriate codes and regulations,” the company said in a 2017 news release.

It was not immediately clear what company manufactured the cladding used on the Spanish apartment building.

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