Sweden wildfire: High alert as blazes hit Europe

Some 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of land has already gone up in smoke or continues to burn -- an area twice the size of the city of Paris.

Published: 23rd July 2018 11:55 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd July 2018 11:55 PM   |  A+A-

A destroyed forest in Sweden. (Photo | AP)

By AFP

STOCKHOLM: Sweden warned Monday of an "extreme" risk of new forest fires as much of Scandinavia baked in a heatwave and dozens of fires hit countries across northern Europe as well as Greece.

Sweden's civil protection agency MSB counted 27 active fires across the country on Monday, half the previous day's number, as temperatures were expected to soar as high as 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) this week.

Other European countries including France, Italy and Germany have sent a mix of plane, trucks and firefighters to help tackle the blazes as Sweden, where usual summer temperatures are closer to 23 Celsius, has struggled to contain the crisis.

Some 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of land has already gone up in smoke or continues to burn -- an area twice the size of the city of Paris.

At least four of the fires had not been brought under control, MSB said, and weather conditions were unfavourable.

Sweden is experiencing an unprecedented drought and soaring temperatures which have reached the highest in a century.

"The risk is extreme" in the southern part of Sweden, with the heatwave leaving forests tinder dry with no rain likely, MSB head of operations Britta Ramberg told a news conference.

Ramberg said anybody lighting fires or barbecues would face prosecution. Norway, Denmark and Poland have also sent help to battle the blazes.

Almost 140 Polish firefighters and 44 trucks arrived in the central Jamtland province on Sunday.

France has dispatched two water-bomber planes and in the region of Ljusdal, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Stockholm, French firefighters were deployed to ensure that blazes put out in recent days do not reignite.

"We are working on the edges (of the burned areas), treating the surface and picking through the earth," firefighting co-ordinator Stephane Nissle told AFP. "It's a long struggle."

Forest fires 

There has been practically no rain since the beginning of May in the Nordic country, aside from a paltry 13 millimetres in mid-June.

Farmers have even been forced to send livestock to slaughter after fire damage led to shortages of hay.

The Forestry Bureau said in a statement Monday that the value of the destroyed forests was 900 million kronor (87 million euros).

Other northern European nations have been struggling to contain forest fires as the temperature shows no sign of dropping. 

In Finland's northernmost Lapland province, fires have ravaged wood and grassland close to the border with Russia. 

Sweden is fighting its most serious wildfires in decades, including blazes above the Arctic Circle. (Photo | AP)

Norway, which this year experienced its hottest May temperatures on record, has also seen several small fires, and one firefighter was killed on July 15 while trying to contain a blaze. 

Fires have raged for five days in Latvia, destroying more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) in the Baltic state's western regions.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks. Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.

And in Greece -- a country no stranger to summer blazes -- authorities on Monday ordered the evacuation of a region west of Athens as a fire raged out of control. 

More than 130 firefighters, five aircraft and two helicopters have been mobilised to tackle the "extremely difficult" situation due to strong gusts of wind, Athens fire chief Achille Tzouvaras said.

The army has also provided four helicopters and tankers, according to the interior ministry.

Firefighters were also battling a blaze in Nea Voutza, 20 kilometres north of the capital.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the situation around Athens was "very difficult", adding that "all forces" had been mobilised to douse the flames.

Temperatures in Greece have soared in recent days -- it was forecast to hit 41 Celsius on Monday -- with the culture ministry closing early due to the heat. 

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