Sunday, February 13, 2005

ONE OF MADRID'S tallest buildings, in the heart of the city's financial district, went spectacularly on fire last night and has been virtually destroyed:
MADRID, Spain - Firefighters shot jets of water on one of Madrid's tallest office buildings for a second day Sunday, fighting to control a fiery orange blaze that began the night before and threatened to collapse the 32-story skyscraper.

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

"We are battling Madrid's most important fire in its history," said mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, speaking from the scene Sunday morning. "The situation right now is still of high risk. It will take hours until this fire is declared under control."

[...] Three firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and exhaustion. No other injuries were reported.

[...] Most of the Windsor Building, about 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.
The building was under renovation -while occupied-, and the fire started in floor 21, but was so big that it expanded not only to upper floors, but went trickling down to virtually all levels below. The immediate cause of the fire is still unknown; the first impression is that it was due to a short-circuit, but I blame Aznar, or Bush.

More seriously, it will be impossible to know until the fire is 100% extinguished and forensic experts go in. They'll have to investigate not only the cause of the fire, but why hydrants and fire-extinguishing automatic systems didn't work; even though there were renovations, the offices were working just the same. Hmmm.

Will keep you updated. Meanwhile, webcam pictures here, and some very powerful pictures here.

UPDATE. From the BBC:
Spanish media said the fire appeared to have been an accident.

But Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, speaking from the scene of the blaze, was reluctant to speculate:

"All I can say for sure is that the fire started on the 21st or the 22nd floor of the building and that it was empty at the time.

"It's been suggested that the blaze may have been caused by a short-circuit, but I can't confirm any speculation at the moment."

Mr Gallardon said it was impossible for the fire services to put out the fire in the building itself and that there were grave doubts that the concrete skeleton of the office building would hold.
Which is going to be a dangerous situation, since as you can see in this picture of the Azca area (the business area with highrises which goes along on of Madrid's main artheries, the Paseo de la Castellana) a sudden collapse of the building would be devastating for people going in or out of them, or for shoppers in El Corte Inglés, a big department store (a bit like Bloomingdales, so to speak). Azca is also a hub for underground transportation (tunnels for vehicles, cummuter trains, and 3 subway lines), and is probably one of the spinals cord for the city's utilities canalizations.

UPDATE II. TV networks and new reports are currently saying that the building could crumble down in any minute.

UPDATE III. AFP reports:
A pall of brown smoke dominated Madrid's skyline as officials said that a 31-floor office building in a central neighbourhood could collapse after the biggest fire in the Spanish capital's history.

[...] "The situation is critical," said Mirardo Tudela, deputy chief of the Madrid fire department at a televised press conference. "The structure of the building is unstable."

Madrid Mayor Alberto Riuz Gallardon said it was "the biggest fire in Madrid's history."

As firefighters continued to fight the blaze, the police chief of the Spanish capital, Cinstantino Mendez, said even if the building didn't collapse, "it will have to be demolished because it's in ruins."

[...] One of the architects, Genaro Alas, declined to comment to reporters on the building's stability without more information. He said it was not known why a fire-alarm system didn't work, causing the firefighters to arrive late to the scene.
Wouldn't like to sound paranoid, but hmmmmm, again.
Some residents were fearful that the city, scene of a series of devastating train bombings which killed 191 people last March, might have been attacked again.

"It immediately reminded me of the attack on the twin towers" in New York in September 2001, one onlooker told a reporter.
You can't see it in the still pictures, but on video the resemblance is quite eerie, with fire coming out of the building and debris, glass and paper raining down.

UPDATE IV. Bloomberg:
New York-based Deloitte & Touche occupied 20 floors of the building, where about 1,000 employees worked, Deloitte's Madrid spokesman Gregorio Panadero said. Deloitte audits 19 of Spain's 35 largest-traded companies by market value, including Telefonica SA, Santander Central Hispano SA and Repsol YPF SA, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Financial information is "safe'' because it's held on computer back-ups and the majority of Deloitte's Madrid employees can continue working tomorrow from other locations, Panadero said in an interview. Deloitte expects to select a new Madrid headquarters "in a few days,'' he said.

[...] An adjacent Corte Ingles shopping complex and other nearby buildings will be closed until at least Feb. 16 while structural studies are carried out, Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said in a press conference in Madrid.

``The situation remains critical,'' Ruiz-Gallardon said. Three underground subway routes were closed.

The Windsor Building is also close to a block that houses the executive offices of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain's second-largest bank.

[...] The possibility that a short circuit started the blaze was an "initial hypothesis,'' Constantino Mendez, a Madrid regional government delegate, said in a Tele Madrid interview this morning. Firefighters may take most of today to determine when they can enter the building, he said.

Ruiz-Gallardon said the investigation will also look into the possibility that the fire started as a result of "negligence.''