RESIDENTS in the Galician city of Vigo are up in arms after a devastating fire claimed the lives of three children and one adult in the middle of the night, with several more injured.
Eight further victims were rushed to nearby hospitals for treatment after the fire ripped through the fifth floor of the residential building in the As Travesas neighbourhood at 4am.
All eight were minors, with six in the ICU unit, while a firefighter was also taken to hospital suffering from heat exhaustion and oxygen issues when tackling the blaze.
The fire quickly engulfed the entrance and blocked off the exits, trapping the residents without an escape route.
The building had recently suffered a number of smaller fires and several reports about its poor state had been made to authorities, according to neighbours.
Suspicion has fallen on a recent resident, 40, who had been squatting in the apartment until he was forcibly evicted in August.
The suspected arsonist was reportedly kicked out of the building by another resident who threatened the suspect with a knife.
During the face-off, the suspect reportedly made the chilling remark: “If you kick me out, no one will live here.”
Neighbours also claimed they heard footsteps and saw a person fleeing on a motorcycle as the fire began.
Even more shockingly, the Vigo Fire Department had previously issued reports to the City Council warning of the hazardous condition of the building.
“Several reports had been filed following three or four incidents of minor fires,” said David Álvarez, union delegate for the Vigo Fire Department.
One of the most recent minor incidents occurred just over a month ago, resulting in evacuations but no significant damage.
Despite the Council’s requirement for 21 firefighters to be present, only 15 were on hand from the Teis station during the emergency.
Indignant residents of the building and neighbours from the area rounded on authorities, who they accused of negligence in ignoring repeated warnings about the condition of the building, including electrical issues.
“We all knew about the state of this old building,” said one neighbour to local media.
“Where was the housing department? They talk about documents but they never talk about public wellbeing.”
Another complained: “Five years of complaints to the police and the town hall. This could have all been avoided.”
Emergency responders provided initial information via social media.
“Several people have lost their lives and others have been injured by the flames.”
In a subsequent message, they confirmed, “Four people have lost their lives, all minors. Eight people were taken to different hospitals.
Psychologists who are specialists in major emergencies have been mobilised.”
The fire resulted in severe damage to the four-storey apartment block, which houses five homes on each level.
The neighbourhood had been a diverse community, with families of various backgrounds living in relative harmony.
However, drug-related problems started to emerge among the younger residents, many of whom were squatters, including the suspected arsonist.
Police forensics experts have cordoned off the affected area to conduct an inspection when temperatures allow.
Vigo Mayor Abel Caballero ordered three days of mourning and flags to be at half mast.
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