“Worst fire in 30 years” leaves 70 homeless in Basque town’s old quarter

Bermeo loses large chunk of historic center

Debris and burned buildings in Bermeo on Thursday.
Debris and burned buildings in Bermeo on Thursday.RAFA RIVAS (AFP)

A fire that took hold in the old town of Bermeo in the Basque Country in the early hours of Thursday morning was described by local authorities as the “most serious and dramatic [to have been seen in the Bizkaia province] in the last 30 years.”

The blaze started in one of the quarter’s wooden houses and swept through Juan Nardiz street in an area of the town declared of Cultural Heritage Interest by the Basque government. It is thought that an electrical fault caused the initial fire, which was fanned by strong winds and swiftly engulfed 10 nearby buildings, prompting the authorities to evacuate 71 people. No injuries were reported.

Four of the affected buildings collapsed as a result of the fire and three more will likely have to be pulled down, said Bermeo Mayor Josu Unanue.

Heavy rain in the afternoon aided the efforts of 40 firefighters to bring the blaze under control, which Bizkaia fire chief Javier Setién said had been achieved by the evening. “The fire has been contained and we don’t think it will flare up again, although we still have work to do. It’s going to take a few more hours,” he said.

Local hotels and private residents threw open their doors to the people affected, who comprised 35 entire families. The provincial government also said it would make furnished accommodation available for families who have lost their homes. “We haven’t seen anything like this in years,” said the head of the Bizkaia provincial council, José Luis Bilbao.

The residents were offered psychological assistance by the Red Cross in the aftermath of the incident. “They have behaved with exemplary calm,” said a Red Cross worker. “There were no scenes of panic.”

“The important thing is to be with them,” said Unanue. “These are people with roots in Bermeo and strong links with the old town.”

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