"The flames were cornering us": an explosion in Barcelona's Eixample affects eight buildings
Four people in hospital after suspected arson started in a bar
BarcelonaAt 3.50 am, the neighbours living in the block of buildings between València, Avinguda de Roma, Calàbria and Rocafort streets in Barcelona were awakened by a loud explosion. The deflagration started in a bar, but has generated fireballs that have spread up the building's façade and inner courtyard, which have also caused small fires in apartments in nearby properties. In total the fire has affected eight buildings. "We heard a clap of thunder thunderclap and I saw that a window had fallen out of its frame. With the explosion everything shook and I thought it was an earthquake", explains Laia Cardona, a neighbour who lives in the building where the fire started. Four people have been hospitalised, three in Vall d'Hebron hospital –one of them in serious condition– and one in Sagrat Cor. The seriously injured person is the owner of the bar, who the firefighters found in the street and who is in police custody suspected of starting the fire. The events are currently under investigation.
"The flames were cornering us," recalls Cardona, 21, who took refuge on the roof of the building with her sister, her mother and another fifteen neighbours. In her haste, Cardona escaped barefoot because "she couldn't manage with her slippers", and she had to have metal fragments removed from the sole of her foot, which she hurt during the escape. Her mother, Iliana Garcimarrero, who is the president of the residents' association of the block where the fire started, assures that "the flames were massive and they were very tall". According Garcimarrero, the explosion burst the glass of the elevator and the skylight. From the roof, the youngest neighbours jumped onto the balcony of the building next door and the rest waited for the fire fighters to arrive.
Garcimarrero explains that they had reported the owner of the bar to the police. She had been renting the premises for four or five months and had threatened to set fire to it. She says the establishment had been closed since April 1, when police were alerted after the woman was seen soaking paper with oil and putting it inside the bar. According to Garcimarrero, the officers decided the bar was not in condition to open and announced that they would alert the social services and the Health Department. Barcelona City Council's deputy mayor for Security, Albert Batlle, confirms that there were telephone complaints against the woman for nuisance (the neighbours also spoke of shouting and using an aerosol to spray flames in the street – and he does not know if she was seen by social services. According to Batlle, last Friday the police tried to seal the premises, but they found it was closed.
The Mossos are working to determine the cause of the powerful explosion, which caused the bar's shutter to fly off and crash against a tree in the street. Some neighbours remember that the place used to be very empty and that the owner did not even set up the outdoor seating. The woman allegedly hung up posters announcing that the landlords wanted to throw her out and hinted that customers were dealing drugs.
22 residents evicted
Everything points to a case of arson, but no arrests have yet been made. Victor Molinet, who was the Fire Chief on duty last night, says that the fire started in the bar, where the explosion occurred. Molinet explains that the explosion caused several fires in the same block and in apartments in neighbouring blocks. Although the explosion affected eight buildings, which have had to be evacuated, only two are still affected: Carrer Valencia 73 and Avinguda de Roma 90. In the first, 16 residents have been evacuated because of damage to a load-bearing wall, and they are not expected to return soon. The entrance to the block, next to the bar, has been left with "structural damage," says Molinet. In the case of the second property, located behind it, six neighbours have had to leave their homes after they were "significantly" affected by fire.
Apart from the four persons in hospital, the fire also caused minor injuries to 34 people, who were discharged on the spot. "I was the last to leave. It was horrifying. I stayed on the balcony because I didn't know where to go. People could have been badly hurt and now we don't know when we will be able to return home," laments Modest Ramirez, who also lives in the building where the fire started, who is certain the owner of the bar caused the explosion. Sergi and Nil also live in the same block and are now waiting in the street with their dog. Some of the neighbours are still in their pyjamas because they had to run out. Sergi is one of those who jumped from the roof to the balcony of the building next door: "It was impossible to go down". The two of them are also convinced about the authorship: "It was definitely the woman from the bar, we have no doubt. She had already threatened that she would do it and she was seen leaving the premises with burns on her legs".