VALENCIA, Feb 24 — The Ukrainian couple escaped the Russian invasion because they were staying in Israel. Then they missed the Gaza war because they had moved from Israel to Spain.

But when a fire gutted a housing block in Valencia, they lost everything.

The young woman, who gave her name only as Lisa, told AFP she had popped out to the post office with her husband when the fire started around 5.30pm (1630 GMT).

“We came back and saw the black smoke and started running because we had our dog in the apartment,” said the 34-year-old, who works in marketing.

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“By the time we got there, the top floors were on fire,” she told AFP, describing scenes of chaos with “pieces from the front of the building falling down all over the place”.

Thursday night’s huge blaze ravaged the 14-storey block of flats in the eastern port city of Valencia, killing at least nine people.

Lisa’s husband went into the burning building several times to try and rescue their dog, Usher, who was trapped in their ninth-floor flat.

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He couldn’t get past the sixth floor.

“Our dog was 10 years with us, that’s the worst part,” she said, breaking down in tears.

She had not slept or eaten and was “trying to keep busy” to avoid thinking about it, she added.

“We missed the war in Ukraine, we missed the war in Israel and came here. And now this.”

Among the things they lost were all their Spanish ID documents and Ukrainian passports.

Without papers, they have no idea how they will find somewhere else to live.

Experts said the building was covered with highly flammable cladding which could account for the rapid spread of the blaze, which sent sheets of flame shooting up the building.

‘In minutes, we lost everything’

The deadly blaze left hundreds homeless and destitute.

“In just a matter of minutes, we lost everything,” said Jose Carlos Perez, 53, standing outside a hotel in central Valencia in grubby-looking joggers and a sweatshirt.

“And now I’ve nothing, except what I’m wearing.”

Perez, a retired banker, was at home in a 12th-floor flat when the fire broke out.

He suddenly smelt smoke and saw from the terrace that the building was on fire.

He ran out to take the stairs along with neighbours on his floor, all of whom escaped safely.

“Things were very tense, some people lost their temper, others started crying,” he told AFP.

“When things go wrong, you have to know how to keep your cool.”

Perez spent a sleepless night in a hotel where many evacuees have been put up for a few days by the authorities. As to what comes next, he has no idea.

“I’ve nothing left and now I have to start all over again,” he said.

With hundreds left with only the clothes on their back, the local community has rallied round.

People have donated everything from clothes, books, shoes and toys. All the items were being handed out by an army of volunteers a few blocks from the smouldering ruins.

Dozens of people were milled around a table piled high with clothes, stuffing blankets, books and shoes into cardboard boxes. Others carted away bags of nappies and other sanitary products.

“Truth is, I cannot imagine how these people must be feeling,” 24-year-old volunteer Bruno Loma told AFP. “I’m just trying to do my bit to help.”

The sheer quantity of donations was overwhelming, he added, his face breaking into a smile at the generosity of the local community. — AFP