OVV recommends fundamental changes to bonfire tradition

The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) concluded Friday that the New Year’s beach bonfire traditions in Scheveningen and Duindorp must fundamentally change after the former’s 2018-2019 celebration “ended with a rain of fire.” Though no one was seriously harmed, OVV claims the incident made it clear that a safety investigation could not “be postponed any longer.”

The OVV investigation found the primary cause of the Scheveningen fire was “the lack of an adequate safety organization for the event.” A combination of factors caused out of control firebrands including the height and shape of the bonfire, the volume and “rapid full combustion” of pallets, the use of fire accelerants including diesel, and the “presence of loose pallets at the foot of the stack [which] caused the bottom of the stack to catch on fire rapidly.” According to the report, “There was no clear procedure in the preparation of the bonfires. The municipality of The Hague made unclear arrangements with diffuse organizing parties, which were then largely ignored and failed to be enforced.”

The OVV report suggested that the number of firebrands in 2018-2019 were similar to significant firebrands which landed on the boulevard at the 2017-2018 New Year’s Eve bonfire. Though residents at the time “expressed their concerns to the municipality” over the firebrands, these concerns “did not cause the municipality and fire department to explore the risk further and implement measures.” Additionally, OVV pointed out the municipality’s Safety Council and fire department “could have alerted the mayor to the potential risks of firebrands on their own initiative,” although “the mayor did not insist on such advice.”

Moving forward, OVV suggests requiring a public permit for the bonfires which “grants citizens the right to exert their influence and submit objections and appeals.” OVV says the permit is “necessary but not sufficient” and prescribes among other things a thorough application process, greater involvement from the mayor who is the permit issuer, and a demonstration of ownership from the event organizers.

Ultimately the OVV concluded that the bonfires in Den Haag “cannot be organized in their current form any longer” because they “have evolved into large-scale public events, the risks of which must be controlled on the basis of a transparently structured process.”

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