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Massive Spanish tire dump fire releases toxic fumes

May 13, 2016

Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate an apartment complex outside of Madrid due to a raging blaze at a nearby tire dump. The fire's dangerous black cloud of smoke contains "highly carcinogenic" fumes.

Emergency workers stand next to a fire at a tire dump near a residential development in Sesena, south of Madrid
Image: Reuters/S. Perez

A waste ground containing tons of vehicle tires caught fire on Friday outside of Madrid, prompting Spanish authorities to evacuate 9,000 people in surrounding areas.

The local government has issued a low-level catastrophe alarm due to the "extremely dangerous" and "highly carcinogenic" fumes produced by the blaze.

However, emergency services noted that no one has been injured.

Flames from the dump reached as high as 20 meters (65.6 feet), and the billowing black smoke was visible from Madrid, located more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) away.

Thousands evacuated

Eight-thousand people at an apartment complex in the nearby town of Sesena had already left their homes by Friday evening, reported the Castilla-La Mancha regional government on Twitter. They said that ambulances have been sent to the apartment complex to evacuate the rest of the residents, who have health problems.

The evacuation order was issued because changing weather conditions overnight raise the risk that the smoke could blow towards the apartment complex. Firefighters did report progress in bringing the fire under control and said that the smoke lost its density throughout Friday.

Authorities told people south of the capital to stay inside and keep their doors shut. They also closed a highway that passes close to the dump for three hours.

Firefighters and two water-carrying helicopters worked to extinguish the blaze, which may "last for days," according to local authorities.

Fire was 'deliberate'

"Everything points to the fact that this disaster was deliberate," said Sesena Mayor Carlos Velazquez to Spanish radio. He pointed out that the area had been rained on for several days, making an accidental ignition doubtful.

Fire at illegal Spanish garbage dump

The waste ground, which has been called Europe's largest tire dump, stretches over some 10 hectares (25 acres) and contains an estimated five million vehicle tires weighing 100,000 tons, news agency Efe reported.

Around 70 percent of the site had already burned by late morning, emergency services reported on Twitter.

The dump was declared illegal in 2003 due to a lack of proper permits and environmental concerns. Authorities had yet to empty the waste site and destroy the tires.

Rubber tire fires are notoriously difficult to put out, and some have lasted for months and even years, since tires often continue to burn inside even if they are extinguished from the outside. They also easily reignite.

rs/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)