A woman suspected of trying to set multiple fires in several occupied residential buildings along Vei 222 late Friday night is in custody on the mainland as police and fire officials investigate the case, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
The fires were set at about 11:15 p.m. and, while open flames resulted, firefighters responded quickly and extinguished the fires before they could inflict major damage. Lt. Gov. Jens Olav Sæther told Svalbardposten the woman has acknowledged setting the fires, which police are treating as a case of premeditated arson.
“There is no reason to believe anything other than that it was done on purpose,” he said.
Residents in the buildings initially speculated on social media the resulting fire alarms might be the latest in a string of kitchen fire that have occurred since January of last year due to intoxicated people falling asleep while food is cooking. Commenters quickly realized it might be more than another smoke-and-noise incident when an ambulance arrived and firefighters began spraying fire hoses on at least one building.
There was also apparently confusion as investigators tried to piece together the scene, possibily because some of the occupants forced to evacuate the building were visitors renting the residences because of Friday’s total solar eclipse.
“There should be an interpreter there; hardly anyone spoke English,” wrote Roger Ødegård, the city’s cultural advisor, who posted numerous photos and updates related to the incidents at a community Facebook page.
There were numerous angry responses from residents to Ødegård’s updates and other social media posts regarding the woman’s actions, but Ødegård also stated he was glad the damage wasn’t worse due to factors such as an auto-notification alarm system the fire department recently installed in most of the city’s buildings.
“It’s sad that we should experience this,” he wrote. “Thanks for letting us have the direct notification and an effective fire department. Wishing the governor luck with the investigation because we do not need to have this in the neighborhood.”