Fire flared up again in the devastated mountain town of Lærdalsøyri during the night, while damage from its weekend inferno was proving to be worse than even the prime minister was told during her visit to the area on Monday. At least 35 homes are now listed as destroyed, and investigators faced a daunting task to determine how the fire started.
Strong winds that continued to blow through the valley where the town sits alongside the Lærdals Fjord ended up igniting some still-warm embers, but fire fighters extinguished the flames quickly. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the new fire began in some brush above the highway leading into town just before 5am.
Even though it caused no immediate threat to more homes in the traumatized town, the new fire showed how vigilant firefighters still must be following what now ranks as Norway’s worst fire for more than five decades. As emergency crews continued to patrol the ruins, officials increased their damage estimates and they may keep rising.
While they initially reported the loss of 16 homes and around 14 other buildings, NRK reported Tuesday morning that between 23 and 35 homes are completely destroyed. Returning residents were confronted with nothing but bare foundations in some cases, while others found only a charred coffee pot among the ashes.
“It’s terrible to see your house completely burned out,” said Leiv Thomas Faulkner as he stared at the ruins of the wooden house from 1840 that he’d inherited from his father. “Everything pappa left me was in that house. Now it’s all gone.”
Investigators also faced a difficult job establishing a cause for the blaze that began Saturday night and took 18 hours to get under control. They know in which house it began, but it’s among those reduced to its foundation, leaving them with few leads to follow as their investigation began.
Scores of Lærdal residents are officially homeless, but offers of help continued to pour in. More than 80 others have opened their own homes, vacant holiday cabins and apartments to those needing a roof over their heads. Donations of clothes, shoes, and even toys for children whose families were wiped out were so massive that the local mayor asked folks to hold off on arriving with more items until actual needs could be better established.
The spirit of helpfulness and fellowship impressed both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Justice Minister Anders Anundsen when they arrived in Lærdal Monday morning, best known for its collection of historic wooden homes, to survey the damage and offer emergency state aid. Solberg said the efforts put into fighting the fire and the immediate follow-up relief efforts for those hit hardest “shows Norway from its best side. Everyone steps forward when needed.”
In addition to the offers of shelter, clothes and other material goods, several building contractors were offering their expertise, dairy cooperative Tine offered to haul in drinking water in its tanker vehicles normally used for milk, counseling services were set up and some people even offered their cars.
Officials estimated it will take at least a year to rebuild Lærdalsøyri. King Harald and Queen Sonja were due to visit the town and meet with those affected on Thursday.