Spain: Firefighters struggle to control skyscraper fire

Firefighters shot jets of water onto one of Madrid’s tallest office buildings this morning, fighting to control a blaze that burned all night and threatened to bring down the 32-story skyscraper.

“We are battling Madrid’s most important fire in its history,” said mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon speaking from the scene at about 9am (8am Irish time).

“The situation right now is still of high risk,” he added, 10 hours after fire engulfed the Windsor Building in the heart of Madrid’s business and banking district. “It will take hours until this fire is declared under control.”

With morning light, the damage from the spectacular blaze that lit up the night and attracted thousands of onlookers was evident. The top floors were little more than charred steel twisted into destroyed shapes. Everything else was burned away.

Amazingly, a construction crane remained perched on the roof.

Roads for two to three blocks in all directions were closed off to traffic, including the main north-south artery Castellana boulevard. Fire trucks, emergency and police vehicles blocked the intersections, while service was curtailed on three subway lines that ran below or near the building.

A filmy soot covered nearby sidewalks and buildings, and a smell of burnt metal hung in the air.

The dirty white smoke that poured upward from the building was visible from several kilometres (miles) away.

There were no reported injuries except for three firefighters who suffered smoke inhalation and exhaustion. At its peak, temperatures reached 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 F), said Javier Sanz, head of Madrid firefighters, on Sunday.

Against the night sky, bright orange flames shot out the sides and top of building, producing thick columns of black smoke. At about 3 am (2am irish time), at least six of the upper floors collapsed in a shower of flaming metal debris.

The building, reportedly the fourth largest in Madrid, was believed unoccupied when the fire broke out.

The cause was not immediately determined, though emergency services spokesman Javier Ayuso said firefighters think it may have been an electrical short circuit.

Police evacuated a nearby apartment building and hosed down neighbouring office buildings to keep the fire from spreading.

Most of the Windsor Building, about 106 metres (350 feet) high, housed offices of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a multinational financial services company. The fire appeared to start about three-quarters of the way up the building.

As the fire burned into the night, all that was visible of the upper parts of the building was the flaming, gutted remains of steel-reinforced concrete floors.

Construction of the Windsor Building began in 1973 and was completed in 1979. The shiny gold building was a landmark structure in Madrid’s business district. The building had been surrounded with scaffolding due to recent repairs.

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