Massive blaze destroys 14-story apartment building, up to 20 dead

VALENCIA, SP – A swift and destructive fire tore through a multi-story residential building in Valencia, Spain, on Thursday, tragically claiming at least four lives and leaving 14 individuals unaccounted for, local officials reported.

The fire ignited late Thursday afternoon in the Campanar district, originating on the fourth level of one part of the complex before quickly spreading to an adjacent structure.

The scene was fraught with desperation as the entire complex was swallowed by the ferocious flames. Firefighters battled the blaze, with some resorting to a crane to evacuate two residents trapped on a balcony. One firefighter was compelled to make a daring leap from the first floor onto a crash mat.

Spain’s weather agency, Aemet, reported strong winds up to 40 mph, which likely fueled the fire’s rapid progression. The disaster response involved a significant deployment of 90 soldiers from Spain’s Military Emergency Unit and 40 firefighting vehicles.

The building’s cladding has come under scrutiny, suspected of aiding the fire’s rapid spread, a chilling echo of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. The cladding was composed of a polyurethane material, now largely discontinued due to its flammability, and covered with aluminum, according to Esther Puchades, the vice president of the College of Industrial Technical Engineers of Valencia.

The residential complex, housing an estimated 450 residents as per El Pais, was made up of two towers connected by a “panoramic lift” and housed 138 apartments. The exact number of residents present at the time of the fire is uncertain.

Firefighters continued their efforts, dousing the blackened remains of the building 15 hours after the fire began. The threat of the 14-story building’s collapse and the intense heat were cited by Valencia Mayor María José Catalá as barriers to emergency workers’ search for possible survivors.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made a visit to the scene on Friday to offer his condolences. In response to the tragedy, the city has declared three days of mourning and delayed the commencement of a month-long annual festival.