Banned thinner 'caused fire at PM's residence'

17th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

17 May 2004 , AMSTERDAM — A banned paint thinner is being seen as the likely cause of the weekend fire which killed a painter at the official residence of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in The Hague.

17 May 2004

AMSTERDAM — A banned paint thinner is being seen as the likely cause of the weekend fire which killed a painter at the official residence of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in The Hague.

The 49-year-old man was working with a colleague at the residence — commonly known as the Catshuis — when fire broke out at about 8am on Saturday. The fire brigade believes the use of the banned thinner directly led to the blaze.

The Catshuis was recently renovated

"It is very poisonous, very explosive and banned," a spokesman for trade union FNV Bondgenoten said.

The two painters were working on the building's floor when the blaze broke out in the rear section of the building. The fire brigade believes the fire was caused by a small explosion.

One of the painters and the manager of the Catshuis escaped the flames. The deceased victim has been identified as a 49-year-old man from Oud-Alblas. Both Queen Beatrix and Balkenende expressed their sympathy for the man's death.

The painters were employed by the firm De Goede, which has about 100 workers in Dordrecht and Vlaardingen. The company was voted the best painting company of the year earlier in 2004, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

Prime Minister Balkenende — who lives with his family in Capelle aan den IJssel — was not in the Catshuis at the time of the fire. He returned from holiday over the weekend. Cabinet ministers had met in the residence on Friday.

The fire brigade claims the painters were using a moderately flammable substance and news agency ANP said the use of volatile substances indoors has been banned under Dutch law since 2000.

The FNV Bondgenoten is demanding a full inquiry into the incident. Police and military police are expected to complete investigations into the exact cause of the blaze on Monday or Tuesday. The Labour Inspectorate will then launch its inquiries.

The ground floor of the residence was largely destroyed in the blaze and other parts of the building were badly damaged by smoke and water. Two fire trucks were called to the scene and the fire was brought under control by about 9.30am.

The building — which was built in 1652 and has been used as the prime minister's official residence since 1963 — recently underwent a EUR 16 million renovation, Dutch public news service NOS reported.

About one third of the residence is unusable, but an estimate of the damages bill has not been made. The Government Information Service (RVD) said the Catshuis was not insured. As a general rule, Dutch government buildings are not insured to cut costs.

Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker said after inspecting the building that it will not be able to be used when the Netherlands takes over the rotating European Union presidency in the last six months of this year.

Dekker said Balkenende had wanted to use the house to receive high-profile guests. "He was greatly looking forward to it," the housing minister said.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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