THOUSANDS of people have been evacuated from a sprawling suburb south of Madrid after a massive fire broke out at a tyre dump sending monstrous billows of black smoke into the atmosphere, posing a serious health risk to nearby communities.
Firefighters are still battling the remnants of the blaze, although it is now under control after ten teams spent at least 12 hours operating under an emergency protocol issued by the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha on Friday May 13.
An estimated 9,000 people had to flee their homes, with the first 8,000 leaving voluntarily as the smoke, visible for 20 miles, began to permeate the various apartment complexes and housing estates of the region. A further 1,000 who remained were then told, in no uncertain terms, to pack their belongings as emergency crews arrived on the scene.
Ambulances were dispatched to rescue residents with health problems who might be unable to leave independently, while officials have raised the possibility that the blaze was ignited intentionally, pointing to the heavy rains that have persisted throughout the past week as evidence that a natural fire was highly unlikely.
The tyre dump is spectacularly huge, spreading out across an area roughly equivalent to ten rugby pitches, having begun as a temporary tyre depot in the early 1990’s. Concerned scientists and environmental activists have reportedly warned the government repeatedly that the site was a calamity waiting to happen, especially given the notorious difficulty of extinguishing fires that feed on rubber.
In a classic case of ‘manana manana’, the regional authorities had established several plans to break up the dump and move the rubber graveyard to more secure premises, but have simply failed to get around to it for various reasons.
Emergency services are now focussed on preventing the toxic fumes from reaching the neighbouring town of Sesena which has 20,000 residents, many of whom have voiced their concerns about the impact of the site catching fire in the past.