UPDATED: Hundreds of residents of the northern city of Steinkjer were evacuated on Tuesday when an industrial building near downtown burst into flames early in the morning. Evacuees included even the head of the local preparedness agency and his family.
“I generally start the day by reading the news on my IPad, and I was doing that around 7am when I read that there was a fire,” Per Arne Stavnås, chief of the county’s emergency preparedness unit, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I glanced out the window and saw lots of flames.”
He ended up quickly getting his own family and neighours out of their homes, as he initially had to turn overall responsibility to his colleagues.
“I knew there were gas cannisters in the building, and therefore I was focused on getting us out of the house fast,” Stavnås said. “I woke everyone else up, alerted the neighbours and we left.”
Wide area cordoned off
Several hundred others were evacuated in the latest major fire to hit the Trøndelag counties in the past few weeks. Police cordoned off the entire area within 800 meters of the building that turned into an inferno.
Police also had orders to try shooting the gas cannisters inside the building, once some smoke cleared, before they set off massive explosions. The explosion danger remained high by late morning, but police managed to destroy the cannisters shortly before 11am. With the explosion danger believed to be eliminated, some residents were allowed to start returning to their properties.
Alarms rang just after 6am Tuesday, and the building was quickly engulfed in flames. “We have control so far, but evacuations are continuing,” police operations leader Per Henrik Bykvist told reporters around 9:30am. By 11am, the acute phase of the fire-fighting operation was over.
Main highway closed
The fire closed the main E6 highway through Steinkjer’s central business area, and portions of downtown were subject to the evacuation. Several automotive firms had operations in the industrial building that was ablaze, including Kvernland bil and Riis bilglass. The cause of the fire remained unclear.
Residents who weren’t evacuated to City Hall or elsewhere were told to close any open windows, as smoke spread over the city.
Civil defense forces in Nord-Trøndelag were helping firefighters, and all forms of emergency services were in place. The E6 highway reopened around 11am.