VALENCIA: At least four people have died in a huge fire that gutted a multi-storey apartment block in Spain’s eastern port city of Valencia, with another 14 people injured.

The toll could rise, with 19 people missing, a source on the city council who asked not to be named told AFP.

The fire began around 5:30 pm on Thursday on the fourth floor and spread rapidly, witnesses and the emergency services said, with images showing flames and vast clouds of black smoke engulfing the building in the Campanar neighbourhood in western Valencia.

“It can be confirmed that four people have died,” Jorge Suarez Torres, deputy director of emergency services for the Valencia region, told reporters.

Fourteen people had been treated for injuries of varying degrees, including a seven-year-old child, and 12 of them were transferred to hospitals, according to emergency services.

Spain’s TVE public television said there were more than 130 flats in the 14-storey building which was rapidly “reduced to a skeleton”, with 22 teams of firefighters battling the blaze.

Speaking to regional television station A Punt, Esther Puchades, deputy head of Valencia’s Industrial Engineers Association (COGITI) said the fire had spread so rapidly because the building was covered with highly flammable polyurethane cladding.

Luis Ibanez, who lives nearby, told TVE he had looked out of a window and saw the flames engulfing the block “within a matter of minutes”, saying it was “as if it was made of cork”.

“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,” he said.

“There was a really strong wind and the fire was spreading to the left at a huge speed.”

Scenes of chaos

One resident, Vicente, came home to find the building in flames, telling TVE he thought everyone had been safely evacuated.

“I think they all got out,” he said.

Footage on social media that was reposted by Spanish media outlets showed a father and daughter being rescued from a balcony where they were trapped.

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“Please stay away from the area of the fire to let the emergency services do their work,” Valencia’s Mayor Maria Jose Catala urged on social media platform X.

A woman who runs a nearby flower shop told public television the building was no more than 14 years old and had more than 100 flats, all of which were occupied.

“What caused the fire to spread was mostly the wind,” she said, describing scenes of “chaos” as the blaze took hold, snarling traffic and sending clouds of smoke everywhere.

Writing on X, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he was “shocked by the terrible fire” and was in contact with the mayor and the region’s leader “to offer whatever help needed” and extending his condolences to everyone affected by the blaze.

In October, a fire gutted a nightclub in the neighbouring region of Murcia, claiming 13 lives in what was Spain’s deadliest nightclub fire in three decades.

Six people have been charged as part of a manslaughter probe and could face up to nine years behind bars if the deaths were found to be the result of negligence.

The fears of polyurethane cladding exacerbating the Valencia fire recalled the 2017 tragedy at London’s Grenfell Tower.

In that incident, a fire at a 24-storey high-rise in west London killed 72 people, with the blaze spreading rapidly due to the highly combustible cladding on the block’s outside walls.

A public inquiry into the disaster is still ongoing.

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