Fluffs of poplars acted as petrol for a large wildfire near Musselkanaal. “Two boys came running out of the woods”

Poplar fluffs were the driving force behind a large forest fire near Musselkanaal, which resulted in the loss of more than 6 hectares of nature. The municipality of Stadskanaal and Staatsbosbeheer were warned in advance that things would go wrong, say local residents.

“It just scares you. That’s how quickly those fluff caught fire. Like it’s gasoline.” Bennie de Vries lives on the Telefoonweg in Musselkanaal and saw the forest, full of poplars, on fire opposite his house just after four o’clock on Friday afternoon. “The whole forest was full of fluff from those trees. During the day it drifted into our street, just as if it were winter. It really is like snow.”

People had to flee

Those fluff from the poplars caught fire. And because the entire forest, and its edges, are strewn with the white stuff, the fire brigade and the Groningen Security Region scaled up from medium fire (3:58 p.m.) to very large fire (4:01 p.m.) within a few minutes. De Vries understands that very well. “It all caught fire so quickly. The forest burned very quickly. You can hardly walk against that.” Some people really had to flee the forest.

The fire released a lot of smoke, says Geert Walburg of the Groningen Safety Region. The fire brigade turned out with a lot of equipment and also received help from Drenthe, from the so-called ‘wildfire platoon’. “They have 4×4 cars that can drive through forests and at the same time extinguish the fire,” says Walburg, who said at the beginning of Friday evening that 6 hectares of forest – “mainly poplars” – were lost due to the large fire.

It is already the second wildfire in the North: in the Paaskamp nature reserve near Assen, a large parcel of forest (about 400 by 300 meters) caught fire ten days ago. “It is very dry,” Walburg summarizes.

‘Boys ran from forest’

But that is – it was eventually scaled up to GRIP 1 (4.51 pm) – so not the only reason. How the highly flammable fluff caught fire is not yet known.

But at the Telefoonweg, some residents have an idea. “Two boys came running very quickly from the woods. I have taken care of one of them, a boy of about 13 years old,” says Bennie de Vries. One of his neighbors nods. ,,The boys were so shocked, he was really nodding with his knees. He didn’t know how flammable that fluff was and how quickly it spreads. I’m definitely not saying they have anything to do with it, but that stuff doesn’t catch fire on its own.”

Previously reported dangerous situation

Mayor Klaas Sloots of the municipality of Stadskanaal also came to take a closer look. Residents of the Telefoonweg sounded the alarm days before the fire. One of them says that a municipal official also came by on Wednesday, after a telephone report. According to that resident, the official had concluded that the fluff on the floor was indeed cause for concern. This week there were also several forest fires in Flevoland due to the white fluff clouds of the poplar. But according to the reporters from Musselkanaal, Staatsbosbeheer did not respond. “This wildfire could have been prevented,” they conclude.

An NL-Alert was issued due to the smoke development, but according to local residents, this was done “much too late”. The message alarmed “only at 5 past 5”, says Mrs Bakker (‘no first name’) from Musselkanaal. Her garden was, in her own words, black with smoke and she was “somewhat panicked”. She went to the forest to take children out of there with her daughter and “stop them”. Because the kids wanted to take a look, she said. “In the end, we got the police so far that they wanted to stand there too.”

The fire brigade has created a so-called stop line at the parallel street Horsten. “On the other side were all pine trees. You shouldn’t think that they caught fire,” says Walburg of the Groningen Security Region.