“We did our best,” says Jort Steeging. He is one of the builders of the Easter fire in Espelo, a hamlet with 370 inhabitants in the province of Overijssel. They laid the foundation of the 14-meter and 12-centimeter high structure with a crane, he admits, but from a height of six meters it is all manual work. “On Friday it was still 16 meters high, but it fell over.” As a result, both the height and the circumference of more than 83 meters may have been surpassed by the Easter fire of Dijkerhoek, four kilometers away. “Next year another chance,” says 17-year-old Steeging.
Easter bonfires have a rich history in the east of the country. Hundreds – not all as big as this one – are built in the weeks leading up to Easter. In 1987, Espelo even set a Guinness World Record, by building an Easter fire of 27.87 meters. The highest ever. Yet the fires bring worry as well as joy. The high concentration of particulate matter and PAHs that are released cause peaks at air quality monitoring stations in the wider area. RIVM warns that there may be smog up to and including Monday.
Also read: No more school in the village, but still a fire
Easter fire association
They don’t care about that in Espelo. The builders, about 45 men, are all wearing a black shirt with the logo of the Easter fire association. They started collecting the wood in December, says spokesman Marc Oostenenk (22). They do this in collaboration with Staatsbosbeheer and Natuurmonumenten. “We are removing the pine trees from the heath to protect the landscape. Otherwise it will turn into a forest and the heath will be lost.”
About two thousand visitors are expected to come and see how the prunings go up in smoke. The tent, where a band and DJ will perform later in the evening, is ready. ‘Staying sober is of no use’, reads above the meter-long bar. “We come every year,” says Kiona Schrijver (16). She nods to the four friends she is with.
“We always come here because they have a tent here,” she says. “I heard that they bought four thousand liters of beer,” says Estelle Schiphorst (16). Now all you have to do is find someone who wants to get it for them, because there is strict age control.
The Easter bonfire doesn’t just attract local visitors. Peter Reintjes (47) from Zwolle is here with son (3) and daughter (7) to watch the spectacle. “Before it may no longer be allowed.” Wim van Santen (57) is here with his wife and a girlfriend (“De Bob”) from Rotterdam. When friends introduced them to the Easter fire, Van Santen was immediately sold. “I’m a bit of a pyromaniac.” He smiles. “And in doing so, we show that the Randstad is really interested in the culture here.”
Lantern parade and particulate matter
The site fills up just before eight o’clock. It is waiting for the children, who have walked a lantern procession led by mop orchestra De Braandheultjes. A name that has nothing to do with the Easter fire, but with the quality of the orchestra, says the trumpeter. At ten past eight the landowner ignites the pile of prunings, and three minutes later the whole thing is ablaze. Filming is being done and selfies are being taken. A gigantic cloud of smoke dances over their heads. There are more to see on the horizon.
They will notice that in the rest of the country, says Dieter Pientka, of the HoutRookVrij Nederland foundation on the phone. “All fires together cause one percent of the total annual particulate matter in the Netherlands.” To put it in perspective, private wood burning to heat homes has a share of 23 percent. “But firing is done about eight months a year.” This is also because many other sources of particulate matter are being filtered better and better, says Margreet van Zanten, head of emission registration at RIVM. “As a result, this is becoming a relatively larger resource.”
Pientka predicts that peaks will be visible on the map of Samenmeten.rivm.nl, where all measurement information about air quality is collected. “And also watch out for soot deposits if you live in the slipstream.” on two animations It is clearly visible that measuring points, first blue, turn red on Sunday evening. It’s a tradition, sure, he says. “But with all those emissions, is it still of this time?”
Marc Oostenenk from Espelo thinks the media focuses too much on particulate matter. Fortunately, the fires have been intangible heritage for five years, says Oostenenk: “They will not be banned so soon.”
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