A potentially catastrophic fire in the historic district of downtown Stavanger was raising new concerns Thursday about the vulnerability of Norway’s clusters of old wooden houses. Crime technicians, meanwhile, started probing the cause of Wednesday’s blaze but reportedly don’t think it was a case of arson.
The fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in two historic wooden buildings on Stavanger’s inner harbour, one of which once housed a cannery. Both were later converted for commercial and residential use. It was a dramatic blaze, with flames and thick smoke pouring out of windows as firefighters from all over the region battled furiously to bring it under control.
The biggest fear was that it would spread to the nearby historic district known as Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger), full of many meticulously renovated small, white wooden houses from the 1800s and earlier. “Both firefighters and police have worked through the night, and into today,” commander Bjørn Tollefsen of the fire district for Sør-Rogaland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. They needed to be certain the fire wouldn’t flare up again.
Art collection in peril
Both of the buildings located at Verksgata 31 and 33 in the heart of the city were destroyed, but firefighters prevented the fire from spreading. There were no injuries and local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reported that an investigation into the cause of the fire was underway, but there were no immediate indications that arson was involved.
One of the buildings contained a large collection of work by artist Terry Nilssen-Love, who was in Portugal when the blaze broke out. He told Stavanger Aftenbladet that he’d stored “nearly my entire production” in one of the buildings, and efforts were being made to retrieve as many as 150 paintings.
New concerns over fire prevention
The fire was raising new concerns about how Norway’s historic wooden buildings, many of them clustered in preserved neighbourhoods of towns and cities around the country, are protected. A devastating fire at Lærdal in January showed how quickly an inferno can spread, and NRK recently ran reports about the vulnerability of historic districts from Halden in the south to Bergen and, not least, Stavanger.
Local officials have appealed for state financial help to secure the buildings with better alarm and sprinkling systems. The mayor of Lærdal, however, recently expressed disappointment that even after Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited Lærdal and promised state support, no funding allocations were made in her government’s recently revised state budget.