The New Year’s Eve celebration of 2018-2019 in Scheveningen ended with a rain of fire on the boulevard and adjoining buildings. Shortly after midnight, countless firebrands descended on Scheveningen. These firebrands caused significant damage and caused several small fires. The inhabitants and visitors experienced a few anxious hours, as the fire and police departments made an all-out effort to prevent more serious damage and regain control of the crisis situation. The consequences were limited to material damage and a small number of slight injuries. The firebrands originated from a bonfire on the Noorderstrand in Scheveningen, which had been lit around midnight to ring in the new year. This huge stack of wood, which had a height of 45 metres, had been constructed in the last week of 2018. The Dutch Safety Board investigated the firebrands, the bonfire and the organization of this annual event.
Assesment of safety risks
The municipality of The Hague and the fire department did not recognize the risk of firebrands in a sufficient manner. The Efectis report from 2015 gave no reason to do so. While a certain amount of firebrands is to be expected when burning wood; the extent to which the firebrands occurred on New Year’s Eve 2018-2019 took the parties by surprise. This is noteworthy since experience on New Year’s Eve 2017-2018 had shown that significant firebrands occurred and landed on the boulevard. At the time, citizens living in residences near the boulevard expressed their concerns to the municipality and Efectis, the research agency. The occurrence of these earlier firebrands, the concerns expressed in this regard and the proposal formulated by Efectis to investigate these matters did not cause the municipality and fire department to explore the risk further and implement measures. The municipality’s Safety Council and fire department had an limited view of their task in this regard. In their roles as safety consultant and fire expert, respectively, they could have alerted the mayor to the potential risks of firebrands on their own initiative. In addition, the mayor did not insist on such advice.
Two other safety risks – toppling of the stack and radiant heat – had been recognized as such. Several measures were taken as a result, such as an agreement as to the maximum height and volume of the bonfire stack. We should note that compliance with these two agreements could also have limited the amount of firebrands.
The Dutch Safety Board has come to the following recommendations.
To the mayor of The Hague:
1. Define requirements for the safety organization commensurate with the large-scale public bonfire events. This means:
- Choose the (legal) procedures, constructions and organizational safeguards that favour the process of risk assessment, transparency and comprehensibility of the safety measures and their monitoring and enforcement to the greatest possible extent. Do this whilst considering transparency, respect low-threshold participatory options for third parties, and make use of the assessments. The existing permit procedure for events of the municipality of The Hague may serve as a starting point in this respect.
- Ensure that the permit applicant is able to implement the responsibilities deriving from the permit.
- To the greatest possible extent, avoid commingling of the roles of supervisor, permit provider and facilitator.
To future bonfire organizers:
2. Provide insight into the safety risks associated with the bonfires for builders, local residents, and public and ensure implementation of an adequate safety approach to control the risks.
To Fire and Police departments of The Hague:
3. Issue advice on the safety risks of the bonfires, upon request and on your own initiative, in an autonomous manner.
To The Netherlands Fire Service:
4. Organize the collection and sharing of knowledge regarding the risk of organized fires (such as bonfires and Easter fires) within the fire brigade’s organization. Refer to international expertise as well.
Organisatie Vreugdevuren moet fundamenteel anders