Woman charged in fire that destroyed historic building

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UPDATED: One of the oldest buildings on the main street of Lillehammer, which became internationally known during the 1994 Winter Olympics, was gutted by fire during the weekend. A woman has been charged in connection with the fire that forced the evacuation of 16 people, and she now has confessed to starting it.

One of those evacuated was sent to the local hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. There otherwise were no serious injuries from the blaze that destroyed the wooden house located at Storgata 81 in Lillehammer. Evacuees are now being housed temporarily at the local Mølla Hotel.

It took firefighters several hours to gain control over the blaze, which began in a residential unit on the building’s top floor. They especially battled to keep the fire from spreading to other neighboring wooden structures, all dating from the mid- to late-19th century.

City preservationists have worked for years, and invested millions, to protect the historic structures from fire, including installation of fire and smoke detectors and sprinkler systems. “We didn’t think this could happen,” Gry Wiese Hondalssven, culture conservationist for the city. “We have worked so hard to improve fire prevention since 2001.”

Firefighters, however, said the fire was “explosive” in nature and the building was quickly overcome by flames.

On Monday, police announced that a woman in her 20s who lives in Lillehammer has admitted starting the fire and she faced a custody hearing at noon. Police wouldn’t comment on her motive and she has not pleaded guilty to criminal liability. Police want to keep her in custody for at least four weeks, so that she can’t disturb evidence in the case. She did not live in the building, which housed several students, but Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has reported that she was present when the fire began.

newsinenglish.no staff