Spain toxic tyre dump at Sesena forces mass evacuation

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Media captionHelicopters were used to tackle the huge blaze

People living near a "toxic cloud" from a burning tyre dump near the Spanish capital Madrid have been told to leave their homes.

Local officials ordered the evacuation of the Quinon de Sesena area, where 9,000 people live, saying human health might be at risk.

However, many residents have already left their homes and it is thought that just 1,000 people are still there.

Investigators believe the fire was started deliberately early on Friday.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People were seen wearing face masks

Emergency services were called to the town of Sesena, 35 km (22 miles) south of Madrid, at 01:00 local time (23:00 GMT on Thursday).

They sent 10 teams of fire-fighters, who have battled the blaze all day.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption An official at Madrid's fire fighting department said about a fifth of the dump was affected.

Some schools stayed closed for the day. There are no reports of any injuries.

The Castilla La Mancha government said it is unlikely wind will disperse the smoke from the millions of burning tyres.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The sprawling, uncontrolled tyre dump is not an official facility
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The emergency services declared an alert and used helicopters to douse the flames with water.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The smoke pillar was visible for miles away - this photograph was taken from a cathedral in the capital Madrid

A spokesperson said the decision to evacuate had been taken "to avoid risk".

People will be taken to a sports centre and several schools in buses. Ambulances will be made available for sick people to travel in.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Most of the remaining residents were removed from the area by coach

A pulmonologist, Carmen Diego, told the TV channel Antena 3 (in Spanish) that inhaling large amounts of the smoke could cause chemical pneumonia and eye, nose and throat irritation, especially in children, old people and those with weak respiratory systems.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The dump at Sesena, a town where 20,000 people live, is thought to be the largest in Europe. It stretches over 25 acres (100,000 sq metres).

The Madrid government said on Friday evening that the city's air quality had not registered any change from the fire in the nearby town.

'Not chance'

The president of the regional government, Emiliano Garcia-Page, visited the town on Friday.

He said: "I've been talking to the two petrol station workers who raised the alarm, and they told me that the fire started on one side of the dump, which makes us think it was not a chance occurrence. Besides, it was not that hot last night.

"But for now we are not drawing any conclusions."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The regional government said it was a "toxic cloud" and could affect part of the town.

Drivers on roads nearby have been told to keep their car windows up as the smoke may damage their health.

Flight departures and arrivals at Madrid airport have not been affected.

The sprawling dump has attracted criticism from locals and environmentalists for years.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The local government of Castilla La Mancha province, where half of the dump is situated, opened an information phone line for people concerned about the fire.