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Family of four die in fire in Barcelona's Plaça Tetuan square

Eight vulnerable people had been living in commercial premises

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30 November 2021 09:47 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

A family of four, including a one-year-old and a three-year-old, have died in a fire in Barcelona's Plaça Tetuan on Tuesday morning.

A total of eight vulnerable people had been living in what had once been a bank office, of which four are being treated for smoke inhalation at Hospital del Mar and Hospital Sant Pau.

Barcelona's firefighters were alerted just before 6 am and sent 8 fire engines, while emergency services deployed 12 units and a team of psychologists.

Catalan interior minister Joan Ignasi Elena and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau went to the scene of the fire on Tuesday morning to speak with police, firefighters, and the press.

Minister Elena said to the press that "during the night there was an incident with some fighting, which is why police went to the scene and tried to resolve the situation."

Elena also said that "all hypotheses were open" and that he was not sure whether the fight and the fire were at all related. 

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, meanwhile, called the event "terrible" and criticized the owners of the commercial premises: "This was a bank office, not a home."

According to her, this issue "should be tackled by all administrations as there cannot be bank offices that are empty for an indefinite period of time. Owners should be responsible."

She explained that social services were aware of the family's housing conditions and had approached them on various occasions to make sure they were receiving food and medical care as well as to make sure the oldest child was going to school. 

Miquel Guimerà, one of the victims' neighbors, told reporters that the people living in the former bank office "consumed a lot of electricity" as they were connected to the building's electrical panel, and said he believed this could have caused the fire.  

The property owners, he said, were aware of this issue, as it had been going on "for a while." "They did not sort it out and in the end, this tragedy has occurred," Guimerà lamented. 

The Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police force is still investigating the incident.

Government: Housing emergency behind deaths

The Catalan government has said that "the housing emergency" is behind the deaths of the two adults and two children. Government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja said that it is necessary to focus on a situation that "too many families" are suffering from.

Addressing the media after a cabinet meeting, Plaja said the government and Barcelona local council were working in a "coordinated" way to address the root causes of the incident, which she stressed were "multifaceted".

"We cannot normalize events like this" Plaja added, and expressed "deep pain" on behalf of the Government for the affected families and victims of the fire.

735 people living in occupied warehouses, abandoned offices

Barcelona City Council believes some 735 people are living in abandoned buildings, warehouses or former commercial premises, such as the one in Plaça Tetuan. The figure comes from a report in April 2021, which says an additional 334 people are living in slum-like plots in the city.

All of these cases involve citizens who are considered to have a home, but in what the council calls substandard housing. The mother and father who died in the fire did not have a NIE (Identification Number for Foreigners) and could therefore not access municipal housing.

Data about people living in such conditions in Barcelona is not normally made public but in this case it was obtained through a freedom of information request made by the Arrels Foundation, a homeless charity.

Filling the Sink podcast

Press play below to listen to the Filling the Sink podcast episode released in June on the housing crisis in Barcelona.

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