Massive fire reduces hundreds of hectares of nature reserve to ash in Antwerp province

Massive fire reduces hundreds of hectares of nature reserve to ash in Antwerp province
Credit: Belga

A large fire at the Groot Schietveld in Brecht in the province of Antwerp has already reduced 300 hectares of nature reserve to ashes, and the smoke and odour pollution is spreading across Antwerp and beyond.

Several fire brigades are on site, according to VRT.

Authorities are telling Belgians in the province to close windows and doors, but only if they’re bothered by the smoke, as ventilation helps in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

The fire broke out after shooting exercises by the army, and the provincial emergency plan has been announced.

Fine dust (PM2.5) from the fire in military area Brecht is also measured by air monitoring stations. Very high PM2.5 peak concentrations are currently found in stations in the Antwerp area.

“The fire started on the military domain after an army shooting practice,” mayor Sven Deckers (N-VA) said this morning, and efforts to extinguish the fire are huge.

“All the fire brigades from our Fire Brigade Zone Rand are present, air support has also been called in to be able to extinguish the fire from the air, there is military support and the (fire) zone Taxandria is also present for support.”

Support has also been requested from the Netherlands to get the fire under control.

“At this moment, at least 300 hectares of nature reserve have already gone up in flames,” says Berx. “So it is very serious.”

The cloud of smoke can be seen throughout the wider area. This is the case in the city of Antwerp, along with other nearby places, and the Waasland assistance area also reports receiving calls about odour and smoke nuisance.

People are advised to turn off the ventilation in their cars. There are similar reports from Dendermonde.

Governor Berx decides to declare the provincial phase of the emergency plan following the fire at the Groot Schietveld in Brecht. Emergency services are on the spot. A plume of smoke is visible in the wider area. Is the smoke bothering you? Close windows and doors. Updates will follow on

According to the fire brigade, all inhabitants of the province of Antwerp have in the meantime been warned via BE-alert to keep windows and doors closed in case of smoke pollution, and to stay inside.

Governor Cathy Berx explicitly advises to do this only in case of nuisance.

“Do not close windows and doors unnecessarily if there is no smoke nuisance, in COVID times that is not recommended,” Berx said.

The Interregional Cell for the Environment (IRCEL) is currently measuring very high concentrations of fine dust in the vicinity of Antwerp due to the fire.

It is not the first time that fires break out after shooting exercises, said the mayor.

“The risk is always there. It was a few years ago now, but it has happened before.”

For more information and updates, visit the municipal Facebook page, the Emergency Planning Department on Twitter, and the governor’s website.

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