A huge fire is currently raging in a popular Swiss ski resort. The inferno has started in a mountain hut on a precarious slope and it has now spread to a nearby village. People are quickly fleeing, one of the locals said, with “people climbing the walls and rushing to the tunnel” as police and firefighters scramble to put out the blaze.
In the village of Rhinebrunn, there are two high restaurants. One is fully booked for lunch, and the other had just taken reservations for the weekend. Now people are trying to avoid the area, not knowing where the next fire will start.
What does it take to start a fire? That remains a mystery, though scientists have been baffled by the advance of the blaze ever since it started, on Wednesday morning, on the very edge of a frozen mountain.
Some have speculated it is caused by chemicals stored in this unused building in the hamlet, or to do with a trip inside the hut. With thermometers showing there are no visible smouldering gases, it is thought it is the smell that has spread, after local residents reported a putrid smell following the fire.
But one local scientist said it was unlikely it was an accidental fire.
“It’s dangerous to speculate about what is really going on. It’s almost certain there are explosives or toxic materials in the huts. Those factors suggest a highly unusual combustion. But still – the fire is now such a large scale, at such an extreme location – we simply don’t know what has caused it,” said fire protection expert Wolfgang Brüssner.
Professor Peter Behrendt of the University of Basel said he suspected it could be caused by a controlled release of material, made by using compressed gases in the huts.
But he said fire investigators in the area had yet to find a match. “What we can say for sure, on the basis of the data we know, is that a controlled accident would normally bring back still more smoke, and that is not the case at the moment. No fire is creating any visible smoke,” he said.
Despite the safety concerns, some locals said they were grateful for the firefighting effort.
Laurence Bloch, a 60-year-old villager, said: “We can’t actually see the flames from where we are sitting. We just hear screams and the smoke is dreadful and burning the skin. But this is absolutely necessary to help the firefighters and prevent our houses catching fire. And it has given us the opportunity to clear the path of the smoke.”
Bloch added: “It’s been brutal. Every time I close my eyes the smoke is just horrific. But it’s really exciting to see how much their work has helped and saved people. It’s been very intense. It’s been four days of moving like sand.”