No one was hurt but more than 160 asylum seekers were evacuated during the night after fire broke out in the administrative wing of the asylum center where they were living in the mountains of Hemsedal. Police were calling for information from any witnesses as they launched an investigation into the cause of the fire.
It immediately sparked concerns because of a string of fires at asylum centers in neighbouring Sweden. Most of them have been tied to arson and believed to have been set by right-wing extremists protesting the recent influx of refugees fleeing war and terror in the Middle East and Africa.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the fire at the asylum center in Hemsedal, Buskerud County, started in the kitchen- and administrative wing that’s separated from the center’s living quarters by a firewall. The wing was described as being in the oldest portion of the complex, so investigators weren’t ruling out that the fire was started by electrical or technical failure, or human negligence.
As many as 30 firefighters battled to control the blaze, opting to let the administrative wing burn to the ground while saving the residential areas. Police said residents themselves were “relocated to other addresses” in Hemsedal, and some were put up at a local school.
There were concerns that the asylum seekers’ identity papers were destroyed but the leader of the center, Gry Herland, told news bureau NTB that they were stored in fire-proof safes. She said important documents could be replaced if needed.
The fire broke out around 1:45am and the scene was described as “chaotic,” not least when evacuated residents tried to return to the buildings to retrieve documents or other possessions. There were no injuries, however.
Asylum authorities were nonetheless left with even more challenges in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Norwegian authorities have been struggling to accommodate thousands of refugees arriving in Norway in recent months, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea.