The fire broke out in bushes next to the ICE (high speed) rail line in the town of Siegburg to the southeast of Cologne. As the flames quickly spread from the tinder-dry bushes into a nearby residential area, residents were caught by surprise. Some 32 people were injured. One person suffered serious burns, while the rest of the injuries were attributed to smoke inhalation and circulation problems.
Over 500 fire crew fought the flames on Tuesday evening, with fire fighters describing being confronted by a wall of flames when they arrived.
A police helicopter and water cannon were deployed against the flames, while heavy rainfall later in the evening also helped bring the fire under control. Eight houses were gutted by the flames and at least one will likely have to be demolished.
Train services between Cologne and Frankfurt were severely disrupted. ICE trains had to be rerouted along the Rhine river. But by Wednesday morning trains on the line were once again running on schedule.
Deutsche Bahn stated that the cause of the fire had still not been identified.
“The cause of the fire is still not known. It is too soon for speculation,” a DB spokesperson said.
On Tuesday the city of Siegburg said that a passing train hitting a transmitter had likely ignited the fire. Officials adjusted the statement later in the day, saying other causes could also not be ruled out.
Specialists will now examine the area of the fire to assess the extent to which the train tracks and cables have been damaged, DB said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Deutsche Bahn announced that they had donated €500,000 to a fundraising campaign for the victims of the fire.
“Anyone who saw the pictures could see immediately that help was needed,” a DB spokeswoman told DPA. “People on the ground will know best where support will be needed the most, which is why we, as good neighbours, are donating money.”