Police in Buskerud County said it was too early to determine what caused a large empty house at Hovet in the small community of Hol to catch fire early Tuesday morning. Local authorities had planned to convert the residential property into an asylum center.
Firefighters from Ål, Geilo and Hol were called to the scene and gained control over the fire, but the building known as Hallingkastet, situated close to the state highway RV50 running through the area was badly damaged. It reportedly had been standing empty after earlier being remodelled to contain several small apartments.
An investigation into the cause of the fire was immediately launched. Bjørn Henriksen, operations leader for the emergency response, said the fire was reported by a passerby around 5am. Emergency crews said there was no one in the building when it began to burn, and no injuries were reported.
Norwegian humanitarian aid organization Norsk Folkehjelp had applied to operate an asylum center in the building. State broadcaster NRK reported that local authorities initially had turned down the proposal because the building needed major upgrading, and Norsk Folkehjelp withdrew its application.
County officials, however, later approved its use as a temporary residence for up to 64 asylum seekers over the next six years. Bids were requested from potential operators and Hero, a company that already operates several asylum centers in Norway, was among those responding even though local mayor Petter Rukke said no agreement with state immigration agency UDI had been reached.
Fires have also hit other buildings earmarked for refugee housing, but Rukke told NRK that he wasn’t aware of any local protests against use of the building for refugee housing. “We already have a center for young asylum seekers who arrived in Norway alone,” Rukke said, claiming “everyone was happy with it.” He said it still wasn’t clear how many asylum seekers would have been housed in the building that burned, or when it might have been able to open.