THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch safety watchdog published a scathing report Thursday into a giant New Year’s Eve bonfire on a beach in The Hague that sent a blizzard of glowing embers onto nearby streets and buildings.
Nobody was seriously injured, but the embers caused widespread damage. Tires and saddles of bicycles parked nearby were melted; streets and roofs were covered in black embers.
The Dutch Safety Board report criticized the city’s municipality for lax regulation and the builders of the huge stack of wooden pallets for breaching agreements about its size and the use of accelerants including barrels of diesel to help ignite the stack.
For years, two working-class seaside neighborhoods in The Hague have vied with one another to build the biggest bonfire.
The construction and subsequent blazes have become a major attraction, with thousands of people visiting the beaches to watch builders piling up thousands of pallets and torching them on New Year’s Eve night.
Thursday’s report said that the fires, which have been allowed and partially financed by the municipality since the 1980s as a way of minimizing New Year’s Eve unrest that long plagued the city, “cannot be organized in their current form any longer.”
The report said that no official permit was granted for the fires, with organizers and the municipality instead drawing up a covenant in 2016 that regulated the constructions.
Last year’s fire was at least 45 meters (150 feet) tall, 10 meters (33 feet) higher than agreed. The report said that the municipality knew about the excessive size but did nothing about it.
In a written reaction to the report, the Hague municipality said the city would draw lessons from the report and “do everything to prevent embers and flying large pieces of wood in the future.”
“People who were in Scheveningen on New Year’s Eve experienced hours of fear, and that must never happen again,” Mayor Pauline Krikke said.