The area in Poland where a Nazi train filled with gold and other loot is supposedly hidden went up in flames on Sunday night — just as authorities warned the swarms of tourists and treasure hunters descending on the city of Walbrzych about the dangers of searching for the legendary World War II relic.
According to local legend, the 490-foot train vanished in the spring of 1945 after setting off on a 40-mile journey through the mountains from the city Wroclaw (known as Breslau when it was under German control) to Walbrzych, in western Poland. The Nazis had constructed a system of underground tunnels in the region, and some believe the train — said to be carrying precious metals, weapons, and other valuables — was sealed off inside.
Earlier this month, two men — one German, one Polish — claimed they found the train, setting off a frenzy of media coverage and attracting hordes of tourists and treasure hunters. The two men have claimed the train could be worth "well over a million dollars," and compared it to the "wreck of the Titanic." Their find hasn't been verified, however, and many remain skeptical that the long-lost train has actually been discovered.
Poland's Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski cited an "increase in the activity of treasure hunters" in the vicinity of Walbrzych in recent days, and tried to discourage them. "I am appealing to people to stop any such searches," he said.
Polish authorities have said they are worried that somebody wandering obliviously along the railroad tracks with a metal detector will get blindsided by an oncoming train. Police spokeswoman Magdalena Koroscik told the Associated Press that a man taking a selfie on the tracks narrowly missed being hit recently.
Unexploded ordnance from World War II is reportedly another concern. "There is a great chance that the train is mined," Zuchowksi warned.
The already-strange situation took a bizarre turn on Sunday when an embankment along the tracks near where the Nazi "gold train" is supposedly hidden caught fire, burning nearly 220 square yards of forest and brush. According to the Telegraph, firefighters said they were "almost certain" the blaze wasn't arson, but the fire added yet another element of intrigue to the treasure hunt.
Polish authorities called in the military to examine the site with special equipment on Monday, but local officials have expressed doubts about the purported discovery. Zuchowski, the deputy culture minister, said he was "99 percent certain" the train existed after seeing images taken with ground-penetrating radar, but Tomasz Smolarz, a regional official, told reporters that the recent tips about the location of the train "aren't any stronger than similar claims made in past decades."
Whether the train has actually been discovered or not, people in the region have already started to convert the gold rush into cash. Tourists will soon be able to buy "Gold Train" t-shirts, and Krzysztof Urbanski, manager of the nearby Ksiaz Castle, told AFP the tourist attraction "is reaping the benefits of a kind of Loch Ness Monster effect."
"No one's seen the monster but that doesn't stop it from attracting people," Urbanski said.