Siegburg Bushes and scrub that caught fire along the ICE route between Troisdorf and Siegburg on Tuesday afternoon, spread to several homes in Siegburg-Brückberg. Many people were injured and nine houses were damaged.
It only takes a spark. This is what one has heard frequently in these days of drought and constant heat. One spark and a field can catch on fire. Or a forest. But one hasn’t heard much about the threat to homes, even though they are also at risk. And just how quickly it can happen was demonstrated on a hot Tuesday afternoon in the Siegburg district of Brückberg. Nine homes went up in flames, along with cars parked in the neighborhood. More than 30 people were injured, some seriously. The majority of them had to be taken to hospital, suffering burn injuries but also shock or circulatory problems.
Firefighters in Siegburg were alerted to a fire of scrub and bushes on Wilhelmstraße, which runs parallel to the railway line between Siegburg and Troisdorf. The exact cause of the fire is not yet known. In no time at all, the fire spread over the railway track onto the opposite embankment. There, the wind fanned the flames over the shrubbery, and the ten-meter-high incline bordering the adjacent residential development, onto garden sheds and homes. Flames were pouring out from the roofs.
The app "Nina" had issued a warning. Residents should keep windows and doors closed, ventilation and air conditioning should be switched off.
Fire spread rapidly
Jörg Grabowski, whose car service is located directly on Bahnstrasse, was one of the first to discover the fire. "My neighbor immediately called the fire department. It was initially a very small area on the embankment directly at the pedestrian bridge." The fire department arrived at the scene quickly, but then the wind carried the flames into the undergrowth. Both Grabowski and firefighters say it spread rapidly. "It went very fast. The colleagues who were the first to arrive on site, found themselves standing in front of a wall of fire," says Sascha Lienesch, spokesman for the Sankt Augustin Fire Department, which was alerted early on to support the Siegburg firefighters.
Alfons Müller and Monika Höhnscheid live near the fire. They noticed a burning smell and became alarmed: "Who burns off something in this weather?" they asked themselves. But then they saw flames in the neighborhood, and a spark ignited the dry lawn of a neighbor. They tried in vain to extinguish it with a watering can.
"Flames over my head"
A couple, whose house was affected by the fire, suddenly noticed fire in the neighbors' trees. Shortly after that, it took over. They packed the bare necessities and fled. "We just wanted to get out," they said. Resident Lydia Bergen escaped, as did her two sisters who live next door. But their houses are now destroyed. "We are glad that we got out unharmed," she says.
"When I went outside, the flames were already over my head." Around 130 evacuees were cared for by emergency services in a nearby school. After the initial shock, the most pressing question for residents in the area was: "What about my house?" The city set up a special telephone line under the following numbers: 02241 / 102-234, -232, -399, -233, -211, -398.
Train route closed
550 firefighters and emergency workers from all over the region rushed to Brückberg. They initially had problems with the supply of extinguishing water. The Hennef Fire Department brought in a water tank, and a local farmer also brought water in a tank. Federal Police responsible for the area sent two of their large water cannons to the site. A stretch of the railway was damaged by the fire and closed in the afternoon.
According to a railway spokesman, various switching gears along the ICE route were damaged, leading to disruptions and cancellations. It affected regional traffic, and the ICE express route between Cologne and Frankfurt. The train service stopped in the afternoon, with long-distance trains traveling instead over the Rhine Valley. It was not clear how long it would take for train traffic to return to normal.
Streets were also congested and the federal road 56 was closed off. Motorists who were stuck on the blocked off B56 between Menden and Siegburg, were given water by emergency services.
Cause of the fire is not known
Firefighters worked into the evening and had the fire under control by around 7pm. Exhausted firefighters fell onto the sidewalks, drinking water. Their equipment weighs 20 kilos, a respirator alone weighing 17 kilos. Some collapsed under the heat - the thermometer read nearly 40 degrees.
Clearly, the heat, drought and wind were significant factors in the fire. The City of Siegburg speculates that a spark from a train could have played a role. But officials cannot say for sure at this time exactly what triggered the fire. German Railways said all speculations were premature. Residents were allowed to return to their homes at 9 pm, if their homes were still inhabitable. The city provided accommodation for 13 people, and two persons stayed with relatives.
Meanwhile, social networks announced help for those affected. The Facebook group "Brandopfer Siegburg und Umgebung" (Victims of the fire in Siegburg and surrounding area) is very popular; within a few hours it had more than 2,000 members. Accommodation, food, clothing - everything could be found on offer there.
(Orig. text: Dominik Pieper, Thomas Heinemann, Alf Kaufmann and Marcel Dörsing / Translation: ck)