Final death toll from Spanish tower block blaze is nine, say police

Spanish police have said the final death toll from a devastating fire that tore through a 14-storey block of flats in the eastern city of Valencia is nine, with one person thought to have died now considered missing and all others accounted for.

El País cited national police as saying that after forensic analysis of the bodies found in the charred building, they had lowered the number of victims from the 10 previously reported by the Spanish government’s representative in the region.

Four of the victims were members of the same family, including a father and mother, a three-year-old boy and a newborn baby girl, authorities said. They said firefighters wearing masks and breathing apparatus were still working their way up the floors of the charred building.

Experts said the block was covered with highly flammable cladding, possibly – along with high winds – accounting for the rapid spread of the fire, which broke out on the fourth floor at 5.30pm on Thursday and engulfed the building within 30 minutes.

By Friday morning, the entire 138-flat block in the Campanar district was a blackened shell.

Visiting the scene on Friday, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez , said residents had “lost everything in this terrible fire”.

He encouraged people to “show empathy, affection and solidarity with the victims, with their families, and with those who still do not know exactly what has happened” to their loved ones.

“I want to thank the public servants for their outstanding work, even risking their lives,” he said. “We are here to help you, to show our commitment and the solidarity of Spanish society as a whole.”

At least 15 people, including seven firefighters, were injured. Nine remained in hospital on Friday, reportedly all in a stable condition.

Survivors, who included Ukrainian refugees, were given emergency accommodation in nearby hotels after what the city’s mayor, María José Catalá, called “a sad day for Valencia”.

Luis Ibáñez, who lives nearby, told the national broadcaster, TVE, that he had looked out of his window and seen flames engulfing the building within minutes. It was as if the block was made of cork, he said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The whole side of the building was on fire, from the first floor to the sixth and seventh floor.”

Sergio Pérez, who also lives nearby, said the block burned as if someone had poured petrol on it.

In dramatic scenes broadcast live on TV on Thursday night, firefighters used a crane to lift a father and his daughter from a balcony where they were trapped, and a man was seen jumping several floors on to an inflatable mat to escape the flames.

About 100 soldiers from Spain’s military emergency unit and 40 firefighting vehicles were deployed to the scene, where crews used drones to search the building for bodies and survivors once the flames’ initial ferocity had subsided.

Catalá said 131 temporary homes were being prepared for residents, who would receive money for daily costs and rent. The cause of the fire was still not known and it was still too early to comment on reports suggesting the materials used in the building’s construction might have fuelled the blaze, she said.

Esther Puchades, an industrial engineer who once inspected the building, said the fire had spread so rapidly because the block, which was completed in 2009, was covered with highly combustible polyurethane cladding.

When the material is heated, “it is like plastic and it ignites”, she said. She said the fire was the first of its type in Spain but that others involving the material have been similarly destructive in the UK and China.

Faustino Yanguas, of the Valencia fire brigade, called for an investigation into the material used on the facade because it “was a factor that contributed a lot” to the rapid spread of the flames, which were also fanned by 40mph (65km/h) winds.

A 2007 promotional video for the building, which comprises two towers linked by what its developers described as a panoramic lift, highlighted the “innovative material” used to clad the building’s exterior, which it said had passed “rigorous quality checks”.

The tragedy recalled the 2017 fire at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in London, which killed 72 people after it spread rapidly because of highly combustible cladding on the block’s exterior walls. A public inquiry has yet to publish its final report.

The president of the Valencia college of architects, Luis Sendra, said that when the block was built, “there weren’t restrictions on the types of cladding material, nor on the terrace furniture”. The design of the block also led to a chimney effect, he said.

European regulations on cladding materials were upgraded after the Grenfell disaster, and Puchades said polyurethane was no longer widely used in buildings without extra safety measures to offset its flammability.

Valencia announced three days of mourning and postponed the start of a month-long annual festival, while the Spanish football federation called for a minute’s silence before the kick-off of a Spain v Netherlands women’s international match on Friday.