A Blaze from the Past

I had a busy day today. First, I visited my aunt in the hospital, then I attended the monthly translators meet-up at Leo’s Restaurant in Bremen. While rushing from the hospital to the restaurant, I passed through the central station. At the station bookshop, I bought two “Romanhefte”, both westerns (I might write an article about that some time, since westerns are the only Romanheft genre I haven’t tackled yet), The Passage by Justin Cronin (relevant for the PhD because of Cronin’s literary credentials) and a gossip magazine for my mother.

The translators meet-up was nice. I met up with a pal from my uni days I hadn’t seen in a while and laughed a lot. For dinner, I had tagliatelle with crawfish and arragula cream sauce and a virgin Pina Colada. Since I was there by car, I couldn’t have alcohol, so wine was out. I’m glad that many bars and restaurants now offer virgin cocktails, so you don’t have to sit around sucking on a bottle of water or non-alcoholic beer (which I don’t even like), if you’re driving.

The weather forecast had prophecied freezing rain for the evening and night. I wanted to get home before the freezing rain hit, but since we were having fun I stayed until eleven anyway and did make it home before the rain. Coincidentally, I just checked the school closures page for Lower Saxony and my county has closed the schools again because of the weather conditions. Which means that my winter holidays have been extended until next week.

Once I came home, I watched the late news on TV. That’s when I first heard about this fire at a chemical plant in the Southern Netherlands. The news report only said the facility was near Rotterdam, but I immediately thought, “Shit, please don’t tell me that’s Moerdijk.”

I told myself it was unlikely. Half the Rhine Maas delta is covered with chemical factories and refineries. That fire could be anywhere within a very large area. However, two minutes of research on the web revealed that the blaze was indeed in Moerdijk. Shit.

So why does a chemical fire in Moerdijk, a small town* in the Netherlands halfway between Rotterdam and Antwerpen on the shores of the Hollandse Diep trouble me so much?

The reason is that I know Moerdijk very well, because my Dad was the manager of a chemical waste storage facility there back in the 1980s. Between 1983 and 1990 I spent every holiday in Rotterdam, where the head office was. But of course I’ve also been to Moerdijk with my Dad. I’ve been sailing on the Hollandse Diep. And my little storytelling mind placed a huge spaceport under the Hollandse Diep (most likely inspired by Blofeld’s vulcano base in You Only Live Twice, which was the coolest thing I’d ever seen at the time).

Now that I knew that Moerdijk was on fire, I of course worried that the plant where my Dad used to work was the one that was burning down. However, the German news reports helped me there, because they gave the name of the burning chemical plant as Chemie Pack. Which isn’t the outfit my Dad used to work for. Though companies do change hands and names and it was twenty years ago. And the name “Chemie Pack” does sound familiar from somewhere.

So I googled the company my Dad used to work for – which was complicated by the fact that I couldn’t recall the full name, just the acronym. And the acronym has another, more common meaning. In the end, I found the company and yes, they’re still in business and still operating under the same name, too. However – and that was the shocker – their premises are right next to those of Chemie Pack, which is currently burning. Shit. I knew that name was familiar.

So I plugged the full name of the company my Dad used to work for into Google News and got a whole lot of results in Dutch. Now my Dutch was never all that great to begin with and is extremely rusty by now, so it wasn’t easy making sense of those Dutch news reports. Here is a more detailed report in Dutch. But eventually I figured out that my Dad’s old company wasn’t on fire yet, though it was in serious danger and had been evacuated. And the generator company, which had been located directly between the two chemical plants, was already lost.

After reading all that, I considered calling my parents, because my Dad would surely want to know that his old company was in the process of burning down. But then it was already past midnight and my parents surely in bed. Never mind that my father probably knew already. After all, he watched the news, too, and he probably recognized the location right away. Though he hadn’t mentioned anything, when he called me on my cellphone with the helpful reminder to go home before the freezing rain hit.

I suspect I am actually more troubled by this fire than my Dad. Because absurdly enough, Moerdijk and the chemical plants on its industrial estate are a reminder of a time and place where I was very happy. There’s not a whole lot left of that time. Rotterdam and Antwerpen have been extensively remodeled. The places where I used to go, the shops I used to frequent, all of the places I furnished with secret underground cities in my mind – much of that is gone now. This is gone. It’s as if the universe conspired to erase much of what was very important to my teenage years. And I don’t want to see another part of it go, even if it’s only a chemical waste storage facility.

Besides, this blaze is genuinely bad news for everyone in the area, because chemicals burning uncontrolled is generally bad news. The smoke cloud has apparently reached Dordrecht, which is another place I have very fond memories of. And if the fire were to hit my Dad’s former company, it would be even worse news, because some of the chemical waste stored at that facility back in the 1980s was really nasty stuff, the sort that is made more nasty by burning. Of course, the waste might be less nasty nowadays, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And it doesn’t help that every single news program – what few there are after midnight, when even the alleged news channels prefer to air stupid documentaries about aircraft carriers – starts with the tagline Dioxin scandal. Okay, so that’s a totally different story, but there’s a reason I know dioxin is bloody dangerous and have known for twenty-five years.

Oh yes, and those “A spokesman of the fire services says that the smoke is not toxic” statements after any mayor fire ever are bullshit.

* I don’t even know whether there actually is a town called Moerdijk. To me, Moerdijk always was a huge industrial estate. But since there is a mayor, there must be a town.

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3 Responses to A Blaze from the Past

  1. Estara says:

    *crossing my fingers for them and your memories*

    • Cora says:

      Thanks. If my rusty Dutch is correct, the fire is under control and they managed to prevent its spread to the adjoining companies, which is good news all around. The highway bridge over the Hollandse Diep, which is pretty close to the site, reopened as well.

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