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Heath fire still not under control says Mayor, dozens of families unable to return to their homes

The Groot Schietveld is a large area of natural beauty that is owned by the Belgian Army. The army carries out exercise there such as shooting practice, as was the case on Friday afternoon before the fire broke out. As a precautionary measure a camp site and a residential area in neighbouring Wuustwezel were evacuated. The residents were offered accommodation for the night and as yet have been unable to return home.  

Meanwhile, it is feared that as much as 1,000 hectares of heathland has been destroyed. Mayor Deckers says that he and the people of Brecht are upset that this could have happened. The Provincial Disaster Action Plan has been enacted and Fire Services from across Antwerp Province and even from neighbouring Limburg Province have been brought in to assist local fire-fighters.

As the Belgian Army doesn’t have any helicopters equipped with fire-fighting equipment, the Dutch Army is helping to fight the blaze from the air. 

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What caused the fire?

The question on everyone’s lips is what caused the fire? The Defence Department has promised an investigation and has issued an apology for what has happened. “We regret the damage that the flames have caused, but are relieved that there are no victims”. Fires often break out on areas of land used by the army as shooting ranges. This often happens during periods of dry weather with strong winds, as was the case on Friday. Previously, damage at the Groot Schietveld was always limited to a few dozen hectares. 

It now appears that the army was not equipped to contain and quell the fire. The army’s own fire engine for use in the area where the fire broke out is currently being repaired. Even if the fire engine had been in Brecht the army no longer has any suitably trained staff there to operate it. The last two army personnel at Brecht that could operate the fire engine retired 5 years ago. 

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