Officials in The Hague have begun an investigation into the Scheveningen New Year bonfire which sent clouds of cinders across the seaside resort, causing small fires and damaging dozens of cars and bikes.

The city’s mayor Pauline Krikke has now confirmed that the bonfire – which towered 48 metres above the beach – was 13 metres higher than permitted, but as yet it is unclear why officials did not intervene and stop the blaze.

Sources close to the mayor have told broadcaster NOS that officials decided not to get involved to head off ‘social unrest’.

Scheveningen and the nearby district Duindorp have had a competition to build the highest bonfire since the early 1990s. This year, the strong sea wind blasted the flames from the Scheveningen fire across the beach to the boulevard, sending showers of sparks across the town. Footage of the fire, including tornadoes made of flames, have been broadcast around the world.

It has since emerged that the maximum height of the bonfire, which is made of old wooden pallets, is set down in a covenant between the city council and the organisers. Former mayor Jozias van Aartsen said in 2016 that the competition between the two towns was threatening to get out of hand. He also established that the organisers did not keep to the rules about making sure no more than 25,000 pallets were used and that building work stopped at 4pm.

Krikke has said that the organisers, the police and herself have doubts about whether the competition should be allowed to continue. She has set up a ‘far reaching inquiry’ which will take several months to complete.

The beach bonfires were first introduced in the early 1990s as a safety measure to prevent locals setting dozens of smaller fires to see in the New Year, and the competition has been included on the Dutch cultural heritage list since 2014. That year the winning Duindorp pile was just 15 metres high. Children’s television showed drone footage highlighting the scale of the towers on Monday afternoon.


Photo: Laurens van Putten /HH