UPDATED: A fire raging in converted wooden warehouses by the harbour in central Stavanger threatened historic neighboring buildings dating back centuries on Wednesday afternoon. Authorities confirmed no one remained inside shortly before 5pm, and worked into the evening to stop the fire from spreading further.
“We have just arrived,” Leif Lerang from the Sør-Rogaland fire brigade told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) around 3pm. “There is a row of two to three houses which are burning in Verksgata.” Crews were brought in from Forus, Kvernevik and Sandnes to help local firefighters, while more reinforcements traveled from Rennesøy and Klepp. The roof of one building collapsed, and authorities were considering evacuating the surrounding area.
Police initially did not know if anyone was inside when the fire broke out. Seven people were registered as living at the addresses, and police had not made contact with all of them. Firefighters with breathing apparatus searched the buildings, and confirmed shortly before 5pm that no one was inside.
“It will be a long time before the fire is extinguished – several hours,” said supervising fire officer Ståle Fjellberg around half past four. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent it from spreading.” About 30 firefighters were on site by that time.
A short while later, Fjellberg told NRK crews were starting to gain the upper hand. “We have many people on site, but there is still danger that the fire can pick up,” he said. “The wind has strengthened – it’s worrisome.” Crews had the fire under partial control by 5:30pm.
The two buildings on fire, Verksgata 31 and 33, were four-story wooden warehouses converted to office and residential use near the waterfront. The fire was just a couple of blocks from the area known as Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger), where more than 170 carefully preserved wooden buildings dating back as far as the late 1700s stand in close proximity. Local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reported that Verksgata 31 was an old cannery that had been converted into apartments.
Odd Sven Kristoffersen owns Verksgata 33, and had offices there. He was on his way to the coast when his banker called, breaking the news. “This is absolutely terrible and tragic,” he told NRK. “I have a piano and several paintings which I fear have now been lost.”
Wooden buildings stood wall-to-wall in the fire zone, and NRK reported there was a risk the blaze would spread further. Thick black smoke billowed from the blaze. The area was cordoned off, and police asked residents to avoid driving through the smoke, remain indoors and keep their windows closed.
Officials also urged people to stay out of the downtown area, because of congestion and a need to clear transport for emergency vehicles. Wednesday was the start of a long four-day weekend for many Norwegians, because of the Kristi himmelfartsdag (Ascension Day) holiday on Thursday.