Faulty refrigerator likely to blame for Campanar blaze

A faulty refrigerator or heater was to blame for the Campanar blaze, authorities reveal, scotching the theory that it was started by a fire in a mechanism awning. Eugene Costello reports

A faulty refrigerator is to blame for the Campanar blaze, and the deaths of ten people, authorities reveal, scotching the theory that it was started by a fire in a mechanism awning.

The Government delegate in the Valencian Community, Pilar Bernabe, said on Monday that the conflagration was started by ‘an appliance in the kitchen’, and said it was probably caused by a refrigerator.

Pilar Bernabe
Facing the press: Government delegate in the Valencian Community, Pilar Bernabe

This quashes the theory that it was started by a short-circuit in the mechanism controlling the toldo, an awning.

This comes after a court order requiring secrecy was lifted.

On Friday, the Policía Nacional stated that there was ‘no criminality’ behind the cause of the blaze that spread rapidly. The fire broke out in an eighth-floor apartment, and within about half an hour the entire structure was ablaze. The ferocity and rapid spread of the fire has been attributed to the polyurethane cladding combined with the unusually high wind on the evening.

The tenant in the flat where the fire broke out had already suffered problems in an appliance, the heater, located next to the balcony through which the flames spread to the entire building. some two years ago. It was an electrical failure in an appliance in the kitchen of apartment 86, according to the police investigation, and was the exact origin of the fire that on February 22 reduced in just a few hours to a skeleton the building in Nou Campanar.

Faulty refrigerator or heater likely to blame

Ten of its residents died – including two babies of two years and 8 days, along with their parents – while 15 people were injured, most of them firefighters intoxicated and even burned when they tried to extinguish the fire.

This was, from the beginning, the suspicion of specialists in fire investigation of the Scientific Police, now certified in the technical report prepared within the investigation led by the Homicide group of the National Police of Valencia.

As soon as the team of the Scientific Police, comprised of agents from the Provincial Brigade of Valencia and the General Commissariat dispatched from Madrid, accessed the damaged building on Friday, February 23, the main suspicion was that the fire had started inside the apartment. Specifically in the kitchen, since it was the room closest to the corner of the balcony of the house where the first flames originated, as shown by the videos recorded by residents and passersby.

A fire that started inside

In fact, the police knew from the beginning, by the marks seen in the kitchen despite the devastating effect of fire and smoke, that the fire started inside the house and not on the balcony, as claimed by numerous media from a news item on La 1. These reports, which even invoked “sources close to the investigation”, went so far as to assert that the source was in the electrical mechanism of the awning, evidently located outside the house.
In addition to the evidence of the signs seen on the scene of the incident, the National Police had a piece of information of interest. The same night of the fire, when agents of Homicide and other groups of the Judicial Police were making a search of neighbors – by telephone and in person – to find out how many people were missing, the tenant of door 86, from which the fire had started, was actually in Madrid.

The man said that he had been away for days on business and that he had not left any appliances connected, apart from the refrigerator or the heater.

Kitchen appliance started the blaze

He also revealed, as reported in Levante EMV, that two years ago he had had problems precisely with the latter, and that he had to replace it because there were “sparks” in the plug. Once this appliance, right next to the balcony window, was changed, he claims that the problems ceased in his house. But he added, that this was not the only case of electrical anomalies in the estate, which had 137 homes spread over two towers of 14 and 9 floors.

A few years earlier, in 2012, another dwelling, the one at door 51, was razed by fire which, in that case, started in a socket, also in the kitchen. The tenant, the current administrator of the damaged building, confirmed that on that occasion there was a cell phone charger plugged in that room, on the countertop, but without the phone being connected.

The rapid spread of the fire

The reason for the electrical anomaly has not been revealed either, although everything points to an overheating that would have caused a latent fire, with great generation of smoke and gases, but without flames, which would have made it go unnoticed. The strong rise in temperature due to the increase in pressure in the room ended up causing the glass to break. This was the critical moment. The fire received the oxygen recharge that suddenly fed the flames, meaning that the fire was rapidly out of control and spread extremely quickly.

The first video of the Campanar fire, which had two key factors for its dizzying and infernal spread – the wind, with gusts of up to 60 km/h that day, and the polyurethane inside the cladding sheets of the façade – shows precisely those first powerful puffs of fire and smoke, in the form of a ball, vomited from inside the kitchen. This meant that this explanation as to the cause of the blaze was already the most likely one.

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