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Fire Guts Mexico City Building, At Least 17 Dead, 40 Injured

May 30, 1991

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Helicopters and firemen on extension ladders plucked dozens of people from an 18-story office building where a raging fire killed at least 17 people and injured more than 40, officials said.

Firemen searched the upper floors of the burned-out structure today for other possible victims.

The fire, which rose from the fourth floor on Wednesday night, was still smoldering early today. Firemen wearing protective clothing braved intense heat to search the building for other victims of the blaze.

″It was something,″ one tired, soot-smudged fireman said this morning. ″But we rescued a lot of people.″

Fire Inspector Pedro Munoz Novia said 16 people died in the blaze, and another man jumped from the fourth floor and died of his injuries at a hospital. Seven of the dead had been identified by early today, Novia said. A Red Cross official had earlier said that 18 people died in the fire.

Fire officials believe a short circuit in one of the building’s two elevators may have ignited the blaze, Novia said.

More than 120 firefighters were sent to the scene after the fire broke out. They were hampered at first by lack of equipment, a shortage of water, and lack of electricity. The fire began shortly after 8 p.m., apparently set off by an electrical short circuit, said police spokesman Juan Magos.

A brisk evening breeze fanned the flames into an inferno, trapping dozens of people in the Miravalle Building, which houses offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals.

Red Cross chief of staff Alejandro Segura Millan said three people were hospitalized and 39 given first aid at the scene for smoke inhalation or minor injuries and allowed to go home.

Laura Vega, 20, said she was at her job in an accountant’s office on the seventh floor when she and fellow workers ″started to smell smoke. The smoke began to come in.″ She was among 18 people rescued on extension ladders.

Raul Medina, who was working on the fourth floor when the blaze began, said on Televisa that he smelled smoke, broke out a window and crawled to a neighboring building using telephone cables between the two structures.

″That’s how I saved myself,″ he said.

Police and fire officials said more than 60 people were evacuated from the building by firemen on extension ladders and police helicopters.

Witnesses said people in the building, which is near the capital’s Parque Mexico section just south of the downtown area, broke windows and yelled to rescuers. Some of the trapped people hung out of the windows.

The first fire truck ladders to reach the scene could only reach the eighth floor of the 18-story building, but longer ladders were eventually rushed in. It took fire fighters three hours to control the blaze up to the 14th floor, according to fire chief Santiago Tapia. He said firefighters then entered the building’s lower floors to look for victims.

Water was brought in more than a dozen tanker trucks to supplement city mains and hydrants. Firemen also tapped the Fuente de las Cybeles, a famous sculpted fountain across the street.

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