Events
Society 30/11/2021

A family with two young children dies in a fire in a squat in Barcelona

Catalan police had identified the old bank office where the deadly incident occurred

4 min
The inner courtyard where the four people who survived the fire were trapped

Barcelona"The neighbours had long been warning that someday a misfortune would happen here and no one did anything. And today it happened... And it's terrible," explained a neighbour at number 20 Plaça Tetuan in Barcelona this Tuesday morning, where a fire early this morning claimed the lives of four members of a family: father, mother and two very young children, aged between one and three. They had been living in a former bank office of Evo Banco for more than a year, and the city social services had been monitoring the children since they were alerted, in 2020, that they were living in these squatted premises in poor conditions. Early this morning, for reasons still unknown, the ground floor caught fire and the family was trapped inside.

When firefighters and the Emergency Medical Services (SEM) arrived at the building they tried to resuscitate the four members of the family, but were unable to save their lives. Four more people – all adults – who also lived in the squatted ground floor were trapped in a courtyard from which they were rescued by emergency crews and have been transferred to hospital with "mild smoke poisoning". The relationship between the injured and the deceased remains unclear, but neighbours say that, in addition to the family, the premises were used to accommodate more people. When some left, others arrived.

"It's terrible," summed up the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, from Plaça Tetuan, where she reported that social services had acted proactively to care for the children because the family had not asked for any help and that what was done was to ensure that the older child was schooled, that the two had medical care and that they received some food aid through the Social Intervention Service for Families with Children (SISFAM). According to the mayor, work was done to gain the family's trust "little by little". In fact, according to ACN, the Guardia Urbana of Barcelona and the technical services of the Eixample district made an inspection of the premises on October 18 and concluded that there was no imminent risk and that the housing conditions were not structurally compromised.

Firefighters and the Mossos d'Esquadra working at the site of the fire which took four lives

The father who died early this morning was of Pakistani origin, and the mother, who also died, was Romanian, according to the neighbours. Most agreed that the premises had been a recurring source of conflict, with fights and noise, but disassociated the four victims of this problem. In fact, last night at around two o'clock there had been a fight which forced the police to intervene. The Catalan Minister of Home Affairs, Ignasi Elena, has confirmed that the Catalan police have had to intervene to resolve "an incident of coexistence" with "disputes and fights" in which the police force has had to "mediate", but wanted to make clear that "there is no evidence that one thing is related to the other".

"They lived in unacceptable conditions, and this necessarily challenges us", Elena sentenced. At the moment, according to the Fire Department, there are no hypotheses about the origin of the fire. And nothing points either to a relationship between the fight in the night and the deadly fire.

Reported by the neighbours

"The neighbours had denounced on more than one occasion that there were fights and noise and that they were illegally connected to the supplies," explained Miquel Guimerà, who lives in the flat above. Last night he noticed a strong smell of burning that put him on alert. When he opened his balcony he saw the black smoke and heard the screams, and it was then that he went down to the street to try to help and escape with his wife and two children. Guimerà explained that the emergency services tried to access the premises from his home, but they "took a long time" to enter because they first had to remove the smoke: "It has been very long". His children used to play in the street with the oldest child of the dead family and today they were very affected by the news.

The fire service was also alerted by a person who was walking down the street and saw the flames. Both calls were received in quick succession, shortly before 6 am. When the firefighters arrived they found the fire "fully developed", as the head of service, Angel Lopez, explained. The premises were an old Evo Banco office, abandoned for years, which, according to waiters from the cafeteria next door, has been squatted since storm Gloria in January 2020. Despite warning, they were not evicted and the problems became entrenched.

The first group that entered, they explain, was much more conflictive than the family who lived there now, who often welcomed other people with whom conflicts tended to be repeated. Last night there was one. "Here I have seen blood, screams... everything. It was obvious that one day we would have to regret something else," summed up a neighbour while waiting to enter her house. No structural damage has been detected in the building and, once the fire was extinguished and ventilated, the neighbours have been able to return home.

Colau criticises the role of the property of the premises

The mayor of Barcelona has said that it will be necessary to wait to have the results of the investigations of the fire brigade and the police to clarify the causes of the incident, but has denounced that the owners had neglected the premises. Colau considers banks which shun responsibility for their former offices a city-wide problem. The premises of the Plaça Tetuan are one of those that appeared in a report that the police put together a few months ago on squats, after the fire a year ago in a warehouse in Badalona.

Government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja acknowledged that this new case highlights "the housing emergency that the country is experiencing", and stressed that the Catalan Government and the City Council are working in coordination to provide assistance to the other people affected and to address the root causes: "We cannot normalise events like this that asks explanations from us all, especially the administrations". For his part, the Catalan Ombudsman has announced that he is opening an ex officio investigation into the facts.

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