One accused of arson in Amsterdam apartment complex fire; Building partially collapsed
This article was updated when the arrest was announced.
A 27-year-old man who was questioned in connection with the large fire in an apartment complex in Amsterdam Nieuw-West on Sunday morning was arrested on suspicion of arson later in the day, police said. Authorities received a noise complaint regarding the home before 8:30 a.m.
“At the scene, the police officers found the 27-year-old resident. At that time, a fire had just started in the home," the police claimed. The fire at the Startblok Riekerhaven residential center on Voetbalstraat in the in the Slotervaart neighborhood was eventually brought under control at around 2 p.m. on Sunday, but fire fighters expected the damping down of the smoldering debris to continue for several hours, the fire department said. There were no known injuries, but the complex was evacuated with several hundred people forced out on the street.
Arson was considered a possible cause of the blaze early on in the investigation, the fire department remarked. Behind the red and white taped off barriers tapes, a few dozen residents stood watching the fire, some still in pajamas and bath slippers. Several people living in the complex said they were not surprised that the fire broke out. "Residents have been complaining for some time because the complex is not safe," one said. Earlier this year, a roof from a number of homes blew off of the same complex during a violent storm.
"The fact that this person was detained does not mean that he or she started a fire," said a fire service spokesperson earlier in the day. There were "several stories" being told at the complex suggesting that the person of interest had something to do with the fire. The situation that the police found on Sunday morning also indicated that arson may have been involved. "But this is all still unclear and under investigation."
The fire started in a home on the second floor and then spread to other residences. About 75 homes were on fire, some of which collapsed. It is not yet known how many homes have been lost. The fire brigade was able to save the other sixty homes in one of four housing blocks. Three other blocks of homes were not damaged by fire or water, and will be reopened to residents once electricity can be safely restored.
Between 300 and 400 residents of the different housing blocks were evacuated and cared for at a sports hall. Many will not be able to return home on Sunday evening, according to the fire service.
Julius Sunday, who lived on the ground floor in the portion affected by the collapse, was among the group of people standing outside. "I have nothing left. No phone, no wallet. Everything is gone." Sunday came to the Netherlands from Nigeria four years ago and has lived in the apartment complex for about 16 months. "I will probably never live in a place like this again. I started over and I felt at home here."
There were no injuries in the fire. Six people were evaluated by ambulance personnel at the scene because of smoke inhalation. Contrary to earlier reports, there were no hospitalizations. The fire produced a great deal of smoke, prompting the fire brigade to advise people in the area to keep windows and doors closed, and to switch off ventilation units.
Startblok Riekerhaven is a housing project made up of converted sea containers. The residents are a mix of young people from the Netherlands and young refugees who recently received the right to residency in the Netherlands. A spokesperson for Startblok Riekerhaven said that "everything is being done to speak to the residents and help them further.”
Reporting by ANP and NL Times