Hundreds of refugees living in “The Jungle” camp in Calais, northern France, escaped a huge explosion Sunday, in an incident that highlighted the risks taken by those attempting to keep warm in makeshift shelters.
A U.S. Army veteran who shot the video of the blast – which was likely to have originated from a cooking fire – said the turmoil gave him "flashbacks" to his time in Afghanistan.
Ryan Blum, a 28-year-old from Dallas who is studying politics and journalism at a university in Paris, was in Calais to interview a refugee for his university course when the explosion occurred.
"It was my second time in Calais, and I was there as working on a story about refugees from Iraq," he told BuzzFeed News. "As I was leaving in a car, I heard a giant explosion and a huge gust of black smoke. I ran to it with my camera, and as I started filming, another explosion happened."
"There was panic, it was pandemonium. There was a human stampede to escape from the fire, and many of us were pushed over."
Blum said it was then his instincts from his army training days kicked in.
"My training took over. I had flashbacks from my time in Afghanistan, but I didn't panic. It was ironic – the majority of the refugees there are from war zones, from cities that I've been to before. Now I am standing alongside them in Calais trying to help."
A charity worker in the area said it was the fifth time a fire had broken out in the refugee camps in recent weeks.
As winter approaches, attempts to kept warm in the cold will likely lead to more incidences of dangerous fires in the refugee camp.
On Friday, the International Organization for Migration announced it was ramping up its "winter assistance" for refugees living in makeshift shelters across Europe with little protection from the cold. Provisions will include replacement of damaged tents, distribution of winter clothes, and fuel vouchers.