A serious fire in an empty building in Beringen in Limburg province has claimed the lives of two firefighters. Four others have been injured.
The fire broke our around 0200 on Sunday morning. According to a report by the commander of the south-west Limburg zone, Commander Bert Swijsen, firefighters entered the building with the aim of containing the fire. However the alarm was then given to evacuate because of the presence of combustion gases and the risk of explosion, known as a flashover, where the heating of certain materials causes the release of flammable gases.
All but two of the men on duty reported to the assembly place outside. After part of the building collapsed, their bodies were discovered among the rubble.
“These were two volunteers, two young fathers,” Commander Swijsen said. “They had enough experience, but sadly there is always a risk. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact they are no longer with us. They were two friendly guys, both part of a larger group of friends. This is a dark day for our service.”
Local firefighters from Beringen were joined by teams from Heusden-Zolder and Tessenderlo. Four other firefighters were reported to be injured, one of them seriously. He was transported to hospital in Leuven. The others were taken to hospital in Heusden-Zolder suffering from smoke inhalation.
Residents of the Beringen-Mijn area were advised to keep doors and windows closed, and the Koolmijnlaan, where the building is situated, was closed to traffic.
“I want to express my support for the squads involved, and to the families affected,” said Beringen mayor Thomas Vints. “This is a heavy loss for the fire service.”
Federal home affairs minister Pieter De Crem posted a message on Twitter:
“Fate has struck in a serious fire in Beringen. Two firefighters have lost their lives while they were occupied in ensuring the safety of others. My deepest expression of sympathy with family, friends, loved ones and the entire emergency help zone.”
The cause of the original fire is being investigated. The unoccupied building has been the scene of minor fires in the past, in one case when a squatter set fire to a mattress. “The police have found people there at times. This is an empty building. For the time being we have no indication that anyone was present there last night,” said Mayor Vints.
Meanwhile the Brussels fire service will hold a minute’s silence on Monday at 1500 in remembrance of their colleagues in Beringen. “This incident shows once again the risk that firefighters run every day to protect their fellow citizens,” spokesperson Walter Derieuw said. “The families of the victims and our colleagues in Limburg can count on our unconditional support. We also wish the injured firefighters a speedy recovery.”