The fire that broke out last night in a Badalona warehouse where scores of squatters were living has left, for the moment, three people dead, two critically injured, four seriously injured and 16 with minor injuries. The flames spread very quickly and the smoke complicated the evacuation of the building. ARA has managed to talk to some witnesses who were inside the building at the time of the blaze or who went to help them when they found out what was happening.
"I had to jump from the second floor"
Tamba Camara, 42, was in his room on the second floor. He explains that he was about to fall asleep, even though he never manages to sleep well: "You don't rest, you know that something can happen at any moment, whether it's a police operation or a fire. Suddenly he noticed a strong smell of burning, accompanied, a few minutes later, by a black smoke that made him cough and made him disoriented. "I didn't know what to do, I heard screams and I couldn't go down the stairs anymore because there were flames," he describes. The decision to do so was to jump out the window. "I was the first one to jump, and I was lucky that it was a second floor and I only hurt my knee a little bit," he explains. A few seconds after hitting the ground, a person who had jumped from the fourth floor was falling a few feet away from him. "I couldn't do anything, he was already dead. Then, when I saw many people sticking their heads out of the window, I put some pillows and mattresses out so they wouldn't hurt themselves so badly," he describes. Finally he was able to escape and today he slept at a friend's house.
Tamba had been living in the squatted building for 5 years, and it has been 15 years since he left his home country, Gambia. He explains that until today the coexistence in the building has not been easy: "Many ethnics and nationalities mixed, sometimes it was very difficult for us to understand each other. The things is that at one point there were as many as 180 people". It has been even more difficult in times of pandemic, as he explains that they could not take the necessary precautions: "If someone is positive, we are all infected".
"They told me it was burning, I had to help them"
Cristina Stiegler, 42, has her own apartment, but four nights a week she sleeps in the squat because her partner lives there. Yesterday was not one of the four nights, but a call changed everything: "They told me the building was burning, I had to go and help them. And that's how it was, after a few minutes Cristina was in the smoke and flames helping to get people out. Arriving, she saw some people jumping from the fourth floor, and as she entered the building and went up one floor, she saw people who had been burnt. "We saw four people die," she describes. The over one hundred people living in the building had a pet dog, Black, which they could not save from the fire. When Cristina could not help any more people because the building was already unsafe and the firefighters had already arrived, she went to the street, to a safe place. "Once outside we received whatsapps saying, 'Get us out of here, we're burning,'" she explains, looking helpless, as she remembers some of the names that sent her a message.
When she remembers it, she is moved, because she was happy there. She could choose between her flat or the squat, and many times she opted for the latter. "We were a community of neighbours. There was all sorts: the beer can seller, the carpenter; the cleanest and those who had no regard for hygiene," she says. They also shared almost everything: "The food was brought by generous entities or people, I even brought some for many, sometimes". She explains that they also fought, but everyone knew each other. So much so that now, as they are regrouping, Cristina explains with concern that they have not located 17 people after the fire.
"The fire started on the ground floor and went up very quickly."
Seydou Camara was on the fourth floor when the fire started. That's where he's been sleeping for a year and a half now, when he arrived from Senegal. He's 25 years old now. He explains that yesterday he was very lucky, since he was one of the few who managed to escape the fire from the fourth floor. "It started downstairs, and went up very quickly," he remembers. He adds that when he realised that he smelt burning, he didn't even have time to get up before a black smoke covered him and left him almost unconscious. He was able, however, to walk down four flights of stairs. "I don't remember it very well, I was very dizzy, in shock, and I barely managed to get down," he describes.
Seydou works collecting scrap metal for a living. He explains that living with so many people is not easy, but that he has "no other alternative". He adds that they don't get along with the neighbours either, who look at them "with a bad face". "It seems that wish us ill, when we cannot be worse off", he concludes.
"If they hadn't cut off the water, we could have put out the fire."
Fatu, 23, earns a small wage making braids. "Whoever and wherever, on the street or in the building," she explains. She says she lives with her brothers, not blood brothers, but by "life brothers". These are a few members of the squat, with whom she has been living for three years now. She lived through the fire from the first floor and, fortunately, was able to escape through the front door. Before that, however, she tried to take what little water there was to put out the fire. "If they hadn't cut off the water almost two years ago, we would have been able to put out the fire," she says. Now to get water they have to walk 500 meters to a fountain. She explains that they use several fountains because if all 150 used they same one they would never manage. Fatu still does not know where she will sleep today.