The fire broke out just before midnight at Art van Noé, a former care home for the elderly in the village of Spouwen that is part of the municipality of Bilzen in the south of Limburg province. The building is currently empty, but was due to house 140 asylum seekers from mid-December.
Captain Frank Parthoens of the Fire Service told VRT News that no one was killed or injured in the blaze. However, the building sustained severe damage in the fire.
Speaking in the early hours of Monday morning, Captain Parthoens said "We were able to get the fire under control fairly quickly. We are now mainly occupied extinguishing the roof structure”.
VRT News reporter Joppe Matyn told VRT Radio that "Charred supports are all that is left of the roof. Inside too there is a lot of smoke and water damage”.
"Probably started deliberately"
According to the Mayor of Bilzen Johan Sauwens there are signs of a break-in and “it is 90% certain” that the fire was started deliberately.
"This is based on a number of observations of the facts that I can’t go into any further at this stage”.
"The Judicial Authorities have launched an investigation. I hope that that those responsible can be identified as quickly as possible. These kinds of acts have no place here”, Mr Sauwens said.
The police have since confirmed that the fire was started deliberately.
There has been a lot of protest against the asylum centre in Bilzen. Banners expressing opposition to the opening of the centre hang on the fronts of houses and demonstrations have been held in the centre of Bilzen.
Mr Sauwens was unable to say whether the centre would be able to open in December. “That is up to the owners, the Red Cross and the Federal Asylum Agency”.
The Flemish Red Cross says that it still plans to open the centre.
"We can’t say as yet what today’s events will mean for the opening date as we don’t yet know how great the damage is”, Red Cross Flanders’ Ine Tassignon told VRT News. “However, we are definitely going to look into how long it will be before we can open the centre”.