Photo by Wolfgang Jürgen Lempe
(Editor’s note: Story updated at 5:34 a.m. Tuesday with additional details, photos and videos)
A fire early Monday morning near the center of Longyearbyen destroyed 12 apartments and displaced 55 people, although no serious injuries were reported, according to The Governor of Svalbard. The cause is under investigation, and officials are seeking witnesses and photos/videos that may provide further information.
The fire department was notified of the fire at Vei 228, which engulfed buildings 7, 9 and 11, at about 3:30 a.m., according to a statement from the governor’s office. An update at 5 a.m. stated the fire was under control, but still burning, and two people were treated at Longyearbyen Hospital for smoke inhalation.
“Those who have been evacuated are both residents of the homes that have now been burnt down and in homes nearby,” Lt. Gov. Sølvi Elvedahl said. “We currently do not have an overview of whether there are more homes than the 12 housing units in Vei 228 that are uninhabitable after the fire.”
People forced out of their homes were relocated to the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel and subsequently all have been provided with emergency housing, according to a statement from the city. People from the neighboring buildings are being allowed to access their homes and a psychosocial crisis team is being made available.
“The governor is asking people who have photos or video recordings from the fire scene in an early phase to contact the officer on the duty phone at 7902 1222,” said Police Chief Lt. Stein Olav Bredli. “We also ask any witnesses to contact us on the same phone number.”
Felicia Øystå, a resident in a neighboring building where the fire broke out, told NRK she and her family were awakened by the fire alarm.
“We noticed very quickly that it was serious,” she said. “There was a smell of smoke, and when we looked out we saw that the neighboring building was fully engulfed in flames. When we went down the stairs, we were greeted with embers. There was something of a panic attack.”
Svalbardposten owns one of the apartments that was engulfed, and reporter Felicia Øystå and her husband Alf Samuelsen, were at home when the fire broke out.
“We woke up to the fire alarm,” she told the newspaper. “My husband got up and said he smelled smoke. When he looked out the window there was an orange wall of flames. We got dressed, took the dog under our arm and ran. On the way down the stairs, we were greeted by large embers. The car was parked outside, so my husband drove it away from the scene. We were afraid that there was someone in the house, but luckily everyone got out. Two of our neighbors had to jump from the veranda.”
Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, in a Facebook message, said firefighters assisted by Avinor and the governor’s office ensured the fire did not spread to other structures during light winds.
“The evacuees were professionally taken care of by our people at the evacuee and relatives center with the support of the Red Cross and Norwegian People’s Help,” he wrote. “Now everyone has got clothes, food, coffee, a roof over their heads and someone to talk to. Hurtigruten’s employees made our job easier as their hotel both had to handle guests, evacuees and journalists.”
Videos of the fire from Wolfgang Jürgen Lempe: