Spire collapses, historic stock exchange ablaze

In World
April 16, 2024


A fire ripped through Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange, one of the Danish capital’s best-known buildings, on Tuesday, engulfing its spire which collapsed in a scene reminiscent of the 2019 blaze at Paris’ Notre-Dame.

Emergency services, employees from the Danish Chamber of Commerce, including its CEO Brian Mikkelsen, and even passers-by were seen carrying large paintings away from the building in a race to save historic artefacts from the flames.

“We are saving everything we possibly can,” Copenhagen fire department chief Jakob Vedsted Andersen told reporters.

Denmark’s National Museum sent 25 employees to the scene to help evacuate cultural artefacts and paintings, it said on X.

The historic building, whose spire was shaped as the tails of four dragons intertwined, had been under renovation and clad in scaffolding when the fire broke out.

Parts of the roof had collapsed and the fire spread to several floors of the building, Vedsted told reporters.

“It’s always sad to put out fires in old buildings,” he said.

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Some 120 people were working to contain the fire but only around 40% of it was under control, Vedsted said, adding that the firefighting operation would go on for at least 24 hours.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, police said.

“Horrible pictures from the Bourse. So sad. An iconic building that means a lot to all of us … Our own Notre-Dame moment,” Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen wrote on X.

Thick grey smoke rose above the city and sirens could be heard as emergency services were called to the site. Around 90 conscripts from the Royal Life Guards, an army unit, were helping cordon off and secure valuables, the military said.

“I am very, very sad… At first I couldn’t believe it was true,” schoolteacher Elisabeth Handberg, 80, said, adding that she and her pupils had watched the smoke from their classroom window.

“My fifth graders said ‘it’s been there since the time of King Christian IV and then it burns’. They were also very touched by it,” she added. “I’m hoping it will be rebuilt, it can’t be any other way.”

The Dutch Renaissance-style building no longer houses the Danish stock exchange, but serves as headquarters for the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

Dragons on the roof

The building was originally built to accommodate stalls where goods such as tea and spices were traded.

“It was imagined that a lot of gold would be generated for Denmark and that’s why they put dragons above it because they are known to guard gold,” senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, Ulla Kjaer, told Reuters.

The spire also had three crowns at the top, symbolising the great kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, she added.

“This spire is absolutely iconic and there is no other like it in the world,” Kjaer said.

The presence of dragons on the roof had been seen as symbolically protecting the exchange from enemies, as well as from fire, the Chamber said on its website.

“An important part of our architectural heritage was and still is in flames,” King Frederik wrote in a post on Instagram. “For generations, the characteristic dragon spire has helped to characterise Copenhagen as the ‘city of towers’.”

Smoke billows following a fire at the Old Stock Exchange, Boersen, in Copenhagen, Denmark. PHOTO: REUTERS

Smoke billows following a fire at the Old Stock Exchange, Boersen, in Copenhagen, Denmark. PHOTO: REUTERS

The scaffolding around the building made it harder for the emergency services to get through to the flames, while the copper roof was trapping the heat.

The nearby finance ministry was evacuated as a result of the fire, the police said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.

Copenhagen police asked people to avoid driving in the inner part of the city.

The Danish Chamber of Commerce, which has owned the building since 1857, has worked on restoring it to the style of Denmark’s King Christian IV, who had the building constructed in the 17th century.

“400 years of Danish cultural heritage in flames,” Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt wrote on X. “The building is filled with art that tells a lot about our history, about who we are as a people,” he told reporters.

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