Share article:
Share article:

Fire on heathland was caused by phosphorus munitions

The Minima 5.56mm in action, © FOD Defence

A serious fire on heathland in April near Brecht to the north of Antwerp was caused by white phosphorus munitions which the Army at that time should not have been using, the VRT reports.

The land is partly occupied by a military firing range. At the time of the exercise in late April, the alarm code was set at yellow, which among other things means that the use of phosphorus munitions is not allowed.

Yet an investigation of the incident, where the fire spread beyond the firing range, ultimately destroying an estimated 570 hectares of heathland – about half the size of Heathrow Airport – revealed they were used anyway.

In military use, white phosphorus is an extremely harmful weapon. It ignites in contact with air, burns fiercely and clothing, fuel, ammunition and more. It also produces a great deal of smoke which can be used to cover attacking troops.

The phosphorus burns at a temperature of 2,760ºC. The shells, used in the Minima 5.56mm machine gun to light up a target to make it easier to attack, were included on the day of the exercise by the 11th battalion out of Burcht. The shells are attached to a munitions belt in a metal case.

Related News


The question now is, how did the phosphorus shells come to be in the munitions prepared for that day’s exercise, contrary to fire regulations?

The regulations and the codes they contain are drawn up by the military themselves, and codes are changed in consultation with meteorologists and the local fire service. Given the presence of munitions, it may or may not coincide with the colour-codes used to inform the broader public.

At the time of the incident, the army said the problem had been the absence from active duty of their own fire engine. Munitions exercises on the heath are routinely accompanied by fire teams whose job is to put out small fires as soon as they start. Should one fire spread beyond their capacity, then the first engine is standing by.

But on the day, the fire engine was inoperative, because it was broken down and there was not the personnel available to repair it. It therefore had to be sent out to a private firm to be fixed.

But the VRT has discovered that the new regulations, in force on the day of the fire, mean that the army’s own fire engine should no longer be used. Instead, the engines of fire brigades from the surrounding municipalities should be used.

Meanwhile the mayor of Wuustwezel, Dieter Wouters (CD&V), the local municipality, said the revelations by the VRT are a blow to the confidence in the military.

“Our residents’ confidence in Defence has taken another blow,” he said.  “We are very surprised. Let’s wait for the investigation to see if it is effective, but again there is a major question mark. We have to work again on the trust between the residents of Wuustwezel and Defense.”


Latest news

Increase in number of people ‘asking King for mercy’ through royal pardons
More and more people living in Belgium have been seeking royal pardons, mainly for fines, largely as a result of it now being possible to send in ...
England now accepting cheaper Covid tests from fully vaccinated travellers
Fully vaccinated travellers who enter England from non-red countries will only be required to book a lateral flow test to take following their ...
Re-introducing face masks indoors considered as Covid-19 situation worsens
Belgium's council of ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the worsening epidemiological situation, and reintroducing face ...
Federal museums to receive €2.9 million booster shot
Federal museums will receive an additional €2.9 million in support from the government for the fiscal year 2021, of which the first payouts will be ...
European Parliament emphasises healthy food and animal welfare in EU Farm to Fork Strategy
The European Parliament adopted this week a resolution on the EU Farm to Fork Strategy calling for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food ...
Threats of strike action could affect Brussels’ STIB network from Monday
Brussels public transport operator STIB's trams, buses and metros could be affected from Monday 25 October onwards as the union representing the ...
Number of international adoptions in Belgium continues to drop
The number of regulated international adoptions authorised by Belgium further dropped in 2020, continuing an ongoing decreasing trend. Last ...
Disaster drill with emergency services held at Brussels Airport
Around 300 people took part in a disaster drill held was organised on Saturday by Brussels Airport in collaboration with external emergency services ...
Austria presents bill to legalise euthanasia
Austria’s government on Saturday presented its proposals for legalising assisted suicide, in response to a Constitutional Court ruling that the ...
Brussels’ Museum Night Fever draws in some 12,000 visitors
Some 12,000 participants took part in the 14th edition of Museum Night Fever in Brussels, with the 29 participating museums filled to the maximum ...
Relaunch of 10,000 steps campaign to get Flemish people moving
The Flemish government is breathing new life into its 10,000 steps campaign to get people in the region moving after a recent survey found that a ...
‘No scientific basis’ for giving everyone third dose, vaccine expert says
The head of Belgium's Vaccination Taskforce has argued that there is not enough scientific evidence to support the Flemish government's decision to ...