Massive fire burns at tire dump near Madrid

Authorities say residents of the central Spanish town of Sesena have been allowed to return to their homes as the danger caused by a fire that has raged for 30 hours in a nearby tire dump has diminished.

Authorities believe fire was set intentionally

Two neighbours of Sesena, Spain wear masks as they wait for other relatives to evacuate a residential area affected by the toxic fumes produced by tires burning in a nearby dump. (Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images)

Authorities say residents of the central Spanish town of Sesena have been allowed to return to their homes as the danger caused by a fire that has raged for 30 hours in a nearby tire dump has diminished.

The regional government of Castilla-La Mancha lowered the danger level Saturday and permitted residents to return with the recommendation that surgical face-masks be used when outdoors.

Tires burn uncontrollably at a dump near the town of Sesena. (Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images)

It had ordered the evacuation of 9,000 people Friday from a large apartment block complex in Sesena as plumes of acrid, thick black smoke rose from the dump containing an estimated 100,000 tonnes of used tires.

Regional spokesman Francisco Martinez Arroyo said the fire was "totally confined" and firefighters expected to be able to extinguish it completely within three or four days.

The massive fire broke out Friday at the sprawling tire dump near Madrid, sending a cloud of thick black smoke into the air that was visible for at least 30 kilometres.

Smoke from the fire can be seen near two apartment blocks in Sesena, central Spain on Friday. Officials have ordered about 9,000 people living in the neighbourhood to leave. (Paul White/Associated Press)

Ten teams of firefighters were sent to try to put out the blaze.

Madrid firefighting inspector Luis Villarroel said firebreaks they had made helped confine the blaze. He said that by Friday afternoon the smoke had lost much of its density.

Two water-carrying helicopters doused the vast expanse of tires while the army's emergency unit said it would send in two water-carrying planes to help fight the blaze.

Residents in several parts of Sesena were ordered to stay indoors and shut their windows. Classes at one school were cancelled and authorities urged drivers travelling nearby to keep their windows closed. Two major highways pass close to Sesena.

Authorities suspect someone intentionally started the fire before dawn at the tire dump, thought to be Europe's largest, Sesena Mayor Carlos Velazquez said in an interview on Cadena Ser radio.

The dump, known locally as the tire cemetery, was declared illegal in 2003 as it lacked proper permits and since then authorities have been trying to figure out what to do with it.