Wednesday 20 January 2021

Dutch cave Christmas market is a rat trap, say fire experts

Photo: Kerststad Valkenburg

The popular Christmas market in the caves near Maastricht is so dangerous that it should be closed down immediately safety experts told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur on Wednesday night.

Nieuwsuur investigated fire safety in the Valkenburg caves, which are man-made, following a tip-off which said official regulations are being ignored.

Last year, 865 buses full of tourists came to visit the caves from as far away as Britain and Denmark, Nieuwsuur said. And the queues to visit the caves stretch from the Valkenburg hills to the city itself on busy days.

According to fire safety regulations, 886 people can visit the one of the two caves at any one time but officials are letting in 1035 people.

But even the official total is too many, safety professor Ira Helsloot said. ‘Even if you put just 200 people in the cave, you are creating an unsafe situation. The cave should be closed.’

‘The current situation is deadly because there would be a lot of victims if fire broke out. They are narrow, long caves and smoke from a fire would quickly overwhelm people because they would not be able to escape.’

Rat trap

Former fire chief Fred Vos told the programme that he was ‘totally shocked’ by the situation in the caves. ‘To be cynical about it, it is a rat trap,’ he said.

Valkenburg council told the programme that safety is a serious issue and they are constantly looking for improvements. And alderman Jan Vermeer said the caves will be even busier next year, because Valkenburg has just won the title of European Christmas city of 2018.

‘So I hope it will get busier,’ he said. ‘Visitor numbers go up every year. We don’t count, but we do estimate around 300,000 people visit every year, this year perhaps even more.’

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