Enschede fireworks disaster

Coordinates: 52°13′49″N 6°53′36″E / 52.23028°N 6.89333°E / 52.23028; 6.89333
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Enschede fireworks disaster
The suburb of Roombeek on fire
Date13 May 2000; 23 years ago (2000-05-13)
Timec. 15:00 CEST (UTC+02:00)
LocationEnschede, Netherlands
Coordinates52°13′49″N 6°53′36″E / 52.23028°N 6.89333°E / 52.23028; 6.89333
TypeFireworks disaster
Non-fatal injuries950
Property damage
  • 400 homes destroyed
  • 1,500 buildings damaged

The Enschede fireworks disaster was a catastrophic fireworks explosion on 13 May 2000 in Enschede, Netherlands.[1] The explosion killed 23 people including four firefighters and injured 950 others.[2][3] A total of 400 homes were destroyed and 1,500 buildings were subsequently damaged.

The first explosion had a strength in the order of 0.8 tons of TNT (3.3 GJ), while the strength of the final explosion was in the range of 4–5 tons of TNT (17–21 GJ).[4] The biggest blast was felt up to 30 kilometres (20 mi) away. Fire crews were called in from across the border in Germany to help battle the blaze; it was brought under control by the end of the day.

S.E. Fireworks was a major supplier to pop concerts and major festive events in the Netherlands. Prior to the disaster it had a good safety record and met all safety audits.[5]


Crater created by the explosion

The fire which triggered the explosion is believed to have started inside the central building of the S.E. Fireworks depot, in a work area where some 900 kg (2,000 lb) of fireworks were stored. It then spread outside the building to two full shipping containers that were being used to illegally store more display incendiaries. When 177 tonnes (174 long tons; 195 short tons) of fireworks exploded, it destroyed the surrounding residential area.[6]

One theory to explain the large scale of the disaster was that internal fire doors in the central complex—which might otherwise have contained the fire—had been left open. Theoretically, an explosion was considered highly unlikely because the fireworks were stored in sealed bunkers specifically designed to minimize such risk. However, the illegal use of shipping containers reduced safety, particularly as they had been arranged closely together at ground level and had not been separated either by earthworks or other partitioning.[7]

One week prior to the explosion, SE had been audited. The company was judged to have met all official safety regulations while the legally imported fireworks had been inspected by Dutch authorities and deemed safe.[8] However, after the explosion, residents from the affected district of Roombeek—a poor, working-class neighbourhood—complained of government inaction and lack of interest, saying the whole disaster was just waiting to happen.[5]

When it was built in 1977, the warehouse was outside the town, but as new residential areas were built it became surrounded by low-income housing.[9] Residents and town councillors stated they did not even know that there was a fireworks warehouse in their area. Later in the court case, the judge said that city officials failed to take steps even when they knew laws had been broken. They acted "completely incomprehensibly" by allowing the company to expand, for fear that the city would have to pay the cost of moving S.E. Fireworks to another location.[10]


A 40-hectare (100-acre; 0.4 km2) area around the warehouse was destroyed by the blast.[11] The S.E. Fireworks factory was the only one in the Netherlands to be located in a residential area.[12] This caused around 400 houses to be destroyed, 15 streets incinerated and a total of 1,500 homes damaged, leaving 1,250 people homeless, essentially obliterating the neighbourhood of Roombeek. Ten thousand residents were evacuated, and damages eventually neared 1 billion guilders (€454 million).[13]

The Dutch Government warned that potentially harmful asbestos was released into the air by the explosion.[14] The fire spread to the nearby Grolsch Beer brewery which had an asbestos roof. It was later demolished and closed; a replacement opened nearby in Boekelo in 2004.

Healthcare impact[edit]

In 2005, a survey was published based on the electronic medical records of general practitioners, which compared 9,329 victims with a control sample size of 7,329 units ranging from 16 months before to 2.5 years after the disaster.

The study highlighted that "two and a half years post-disaster the prevalence of psychological problems in victims, who had to relocate, was about double and in the non-relocated victims one-third more than controls". Relocated victims showed the highest increase of medically unexplained physical symptoms (tiredness, headache, nausea, and abdominal pain) and of gastrointestinal morbidity.[15]

Legal proceedings[edit]

On 20 May, Dutch authorities issued an international arrest warrant for the two managers of the company, Rudi Bakker and Willie Pater, after they fled their homes, which were empty when searched.[16] Willie Pater handed himself in on the same day, and Rudi Bakker the day after.[17][18]

In April 2002, the owners were sentenced to six months' imprisonment each for violation of environmental and safety regulations and dealing in illegal fireworks alongside a fine of €2,250 each. However, they were both acquitted of the more serious charges of negligence for the fire.[19]

In May 2003, Arnhem Appeals Court acquitted 36-year-old André de Vries of arson. Almelo Court had originally (May 2002) tried and convicted De Vries of arson and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.[20]

In February 2005, after a four-and-a-half-year legal battle, the six-month sentence of each of the owners was increased to twelve months each.[21]

A total of €8.5m in compensation was awarded to the victims of the explosion, according to the organisation in charge of distributing the compensation, the UPV, having assessed 3,519 claims. Three hundred people received cash for incurring extra costs, 136 people received money for loss of income, and 1,477 people received compensation for health problems.[22]

Dutch fire safety regulations[edit]

A memorial of the disaster, outlining devastated areas around S.E. Fireworks

The S.E. Fireworks disaster led to intensified safety regulations in the Netherlands concerning the storage and sale of fireworks. The Roombeek area that was destroyed by the blast has since been rebuilt. Since the catastrophe, three illegal fireworks depots were closed down in the Netherlands.[23]


There have been annual public memorial services in Roombeek since 2000 led by the mayor Jan Mans, and commonly ending on the Stroinksbleekweg. The theme of 2004 was "homecoming".[20]

In popular culture[edit]

The events of the disaster served as the inspiration of the mission "Explosion in fireworks factory" from Emergency 4: Global Fighters for Life.[24][full citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dutch fireworks disaster". BBC. 13 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  2. ^ "Firework Disaster Enschede 13 May 2000". huisvanverhalenenschede.nl. Archived from the original on 10 October 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Government cover-up alleged in fireworks disaster that killed 23, injured 950 | NL Times". nltimes.nl. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  4. ^ T. Bedford, P. H. A. J. M. van Gelder, 2003, "Safety and reliability: proceedings of the ESREL 2003 European safety and reliability conference", p.1688
  5. ^ a b Castle, Stephen (15 May 2000). "After 400 homes and 15 streets are incinerated by firework blast, the Dutch ask: Was it arson?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2 May 2010.[dead link]
  6. ^ Online Oosting zag iets over het hoofd in Enschede, NRC Handelsblad, 23 March 2001
  7. ^ Paul, Hendrik. "Netherlands fireworks factory explosion—the downside of the Dutch social model – World Socialist Web Site". wsws.org. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Dutch blast factory boss arrested". BBC. 19 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  9. ^ "Inquiry into firework blast". BBC. 15 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  10. ^ DEUTSCH, ANTHONY (2 April 2002). "Dutch Fireworks Owners Sentenced". Midland Reporter Telegram. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Geslaagde transformatie van stadswijk na vuurwerkramp". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). 10 May 2005. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012.
  12. ^ "Dutch fireworks disaster". BBC. 14 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Dossier: Vuurwerkramp Enschede 2000 – Economie". Nederlands Dagblad (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 12 February 2015.
  14. ^ "Search for Enschede survivors ends". BBC. 15 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  15. ^ Yzermans, C Joris; Donker, Gé A; Kerssens, Jan J; Dirkzwager, Anja JE; Soeteman, Rik JH; ten Veen, Petra MH (1 August 2005). Health problems of victims before and after disaster: a longitudinal study in general practice. pp. 820–826. doi:10.1093/ije/dyi096. OCLC 503399877. PMID 15860632. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  16. ^ "Arrest warrants for Enschede owners". BBC. 19 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Dutch fireworks owner under custody". BBC. 19 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  18. ^ "Dutch police quiz fireworks factory owners". BBC. 20 May 2000. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  19. ^ "Dutch fireworks blast bosses sentenced". BBC. 2 April 2002. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  20. ^ a b Expatica.com Archived 3 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, accessdate 17 April 2009
  21. ^ "Fireworks directors jailed for fatal explosion | Dutch News | Expatica the Netherlands". expatica.com. 1 February 2005. Archived from the original on 16 June 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Dutchnews.nl". Dutchnews.nl. 19 September 2007. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  23. ^ Paul, Hendrik (May 2000). "Netherlands fireworks factory explosion—the downside of the Dutch social model – World Socialist Web Site". wsws.org. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  24. ^ As explained by series creator Ralph Stock in his Emergency 20 backstage videos

External links[edit]