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Two killed in Madrid fire after waiter tries to flambé pizza

Rescuers work outside a restaurant following a fire in Madrid on 21 April 2023  (Reuters)
Rescuers work outside a restaurant following a fire in Madrid on 21 April 2023 (Reuters)

Two people have died and 12 others were left injured after a flambé fire at an Italian restaurant in Madrid.

The blaze broke out on Friday at Burro Canaglia Bar&Resto in the Salamanca neighbourhood after a waiter flambéed a dish, with the flames spreading and setting fire to the ceiling and walls.

Translating to “flamed” in French, flambé is a cooking method in which food is covered with alcohol and set alight.

“It appears the fire started when a flambéed pizza was being served, which set fire to the decorations in the restaurant,” Madrid’s mayor Jose Luis Martínez-Almeida told TVE, Spain’s state broadcaster.

The mayor also confirmed that one of those killed in the fire was an employee and the other was a customer, with around 30 diners and staff members inside the restaurant when the fire broke out.

Diners struggled to flee since the blaze started near the door, with various decorations including plastic plants quickly catching fire. “We rescued 12 people who were trapped inside because the restaurant only had the one exit,” Madrid fire chief Carlos Marín said.

“Some people managed to hide in the kitchen, crouch down low and wait, but the conditions were awful for everyone inside.”

“Artificial plants are usually made of plastic or other flammable materials. The fire spreads at full speed and the problem is not just that the ceiling is on fire, but that the plastic melts and falls to the ground, as if it were raining”, another firefighter added.

Two eyewitnesses - named David and Ruth - told Spanish newspaper El País that they saw a waiter pass their table with “a flaming dish in one hand and a blowtorch in the other.” The restaurant was engulfed in flames within “seconds”, the pair said.

Elsewhere, other witnesses reported that some diners ran through the flames to escape, with some suffering burns. One group had attempted to smash a window to create a safer escape route.

Mr Marín added that the incident took place near a fire station, so people were able to run to alert them. This close proximity – around 100 metres between the two locations – meant that firefighters were able to issue a rapid response, with the mayor stating that it was extinguished within 10 minutes from the first warning.