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Spain evacuates 9,000 from massive tire fire near Madrid

Tire fire
Black smoke from a massive tire fire rises from behind housing blocks in Sesena, Spain, on May 13.
(Paul White / AP)

Spanish officials ordered 9,000 people evacuated Friday night from a large apartment complex after a raging fire at a sprawling tire dump sent spectacular, toxic clouds of black smoke into the sky.

About 8,000 apartment dwellers had already left their homes in Sesena, a central town near Madrid, as the thick smoke poured out from the fire that started before dawn, the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha announced.

It said ambulances were being sent to the complex to evacuate people with health problems who could not leave on their own.

The order was issued because weather conditions were expected to change overnight, raising the risk that the smoke could inundate the apartment complex even as firefighters reported progress in trying to bring the fire under control. The dump is less than just over half a mile from the complex.

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About 70% of the tires had burned by Friday night but authorities did not know when the blaze would be completely extinguished, said Francisco Martinez, the regional government’s environmental minister.

No injuries were reported because of the fire, which authorities believe was intentionally set. The smoke plume was visible from Madrid, more than 20 miles away. The sprawling tire dump is thought to be Europe’s largest, Sesena Mayor Carlos Velazquez told the Cadena Ser radio station.

Two water-carrying helicopters doused the vast expanse of tires throughout the day.

Madrid firefighting inspector Luis Villarroel said firebreaks that were created helped restrict the blaze to one active front. By Friday afternoon, the smoke had lost much of its density.

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Classes at one school were canceled, and authorities urged drivers to keep their windows closed. Two major highways pass close to Sesena, and one was closed to traffic for three hours before being reopened.

Spain’s leading El Pais newspaper reported that the dump holds 110,000 tons of used tires.

Known locally as the “tire cemetery,” it was declared illegal in 2003 because it lacked proper permits. Authorities since then have been trying to figure out what to do about it.

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