Photo by Páll StefánssonFire in Reykjavík
Some of the capital’s oldest houses were destroyed in one of the biggest fires in Reykjavík’s modern history on Wednesday afternoon. It is suspected the fire started in the kiosk Fröken Reykjavík in downtown Reykjavík.
Nearly 100 firefighters tried in vain for hours to save the building on Austurstraeti 22, which housed the night club Pravda. It was made of timber and built in 1801, RÚV reports.
In the end the firefighters had to tear the roof off the building with a special crane to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading further.
Mayor of Reykjavík Vilhjálmur Th. Vilhjálmsson said he was saddened by the house’s loss. Also the building built in 1852 on Laekjargata 2 (which housed the fast-food restaurant Kebabhúsid) was severely damaged in the fire.
Both houses had great historical and architectual value. The mayor said he believed these historical buildings should be similarly reconstructed as soon as possible.
“I agree with the mayor that it is necessary to reconstruct these houses as quickly as possible. This is the old soul of Reykjavík, the heart of the city, and there must be no damage to the street image. Every tourist who comes to Reykjavík walks through this area,” Össur Skarphédinsson, MP for the Social Democrats said.
The mayor, along with the head of the police and fire departments in Reykjavík held a joint press conference on Laekjargata at 6 pm on Wednesday.
“We have already spoken to a few witnesses and there are indications that the fire started in a kiosk between the houses [Fröken Reykjavík] […]. There are suspicions that the fire started because of lights in the ceiling,” police chief Stefán Eiríksson told RÚV.
The investigation is now finished, but police and fire authorities have not revealed any further information about the cause of the fire.
Questions were raised as to why the fire spread so quickly to the buildings adjacent to the kiosk and experts from the police and fire departments are investigating whether fire-protection walls were insufficient.
“It is perfectly clear that the fire went through all fire compartments and we have to look into that,” said Björn Karlsson, director of the Iceland Fire Authority.
“This is what we call stórbruni (“extensive fire”); the damages are worth hundreds of millions [ISK 1 million = USD 15,000, EUR 11,000] and have cultural value as well,” Karlsson stated.
“This means that the Fire Authority will write a report about this fire […] and investigate both preexisting fire regulations and the way in which the fire was extinguished,” Karlsson explained.
“When we have something of such high cultural value we want to have operations inside these houses […], but we may have to review what kind of operations we want to have there,” Karlsson said.
“It is often difficult both to secure cultural values and fire protection. […] I do not believe the fire protection supervision failed here […], we may just have to come to terms with the fact that there is more risk in these valuable houses. But we have to learn from this, that is clear,” Karlsson concluded.
No one was harmed in the fire but the inhabitants of Laekjargata 4 had to vacate their homes due to risk of smoke poisoning. About 20 people live in the 12 apartments in Laekjargata 4.
“We had to leave our apartment straight away because of the smoke. I’m pregnant and I don’t want to take any risks. Hopefully everything will be okay,” Karin Kristina Sandberg, resident of Laekjargata 4, told Fréttabladid.
“We have to wash all clothes, furniture and drapes. This could have been much worse, we know that,” Sandberg said.
About 100 individuals have lost their jobs due to the fire and nearby restaurants are closed due to smoke damage. Shops were cleaned yesterday.