Maastricht cave fire runs into sixth day, firemen haul out burning hay

A map showing the cave passageways during WWII. Vincent de Groot, via Wikimedia Commons

Firemen are still trying to stop a blaze which is causing smoke damage to parts of the historic Cannerberg ‘cave’ complex which runs from Maastricht into Belgium, six days after it began.

Several local fire brigades are involved in fighting the fire which began in a hay storage area last Thursday night, the Limburger said on Wednesday. Two Belgian nationals have been arrested in connection with the fire, which, according to Trouw, officials now think was started deliberately.

The caves were developed over the centuries as a limestone quarry. More than 80 kilometres of tunnels still run underneath the hillside and are dotted with inscriptions dating back hundreds of years, as well as carvings and traces of World War II activity.

Officials have now established that tunnels through the vast cave complex are safe enough to accommodate members of the fire brigades and special equipment. Wednesday mid-morning they entered the caves and began hauling away burning wood and hay stored there. In total, the storage area, which was licenced, contains 800 m3 of hay, the paper said.

Until then the emergency services had been allowing the fire to burn itself out, a controlled process which is now deemed to be too lengthy.

Smoke damage 

The fire has caused major damage in the few days it has been burning and smoke has affected nearby Maastricht.

Château Neercanne, a Michelin-starred restaurant above the caves where the fire started, has been forced to close after its kitchens, dining rooms and wine cellars were damaged by the fire.

National storage location no. 9, better known as ‘the vault,’ which was used to store some 780 artworks including Rembrandt’s Night Watch until the end of the World War II is not yet thought to have been affected by smoke.

The caves, which are a major tourist draw in the region, later served as a communications centre and alternate headquarters of Nato during the Cold War.

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