Finland — A two-man team of Finnish fire experts is travelling to Vyborg on Wednesday to discuss the forest fire situation in the area with Russian officials. Smoke from Russian forest fires near the Finnish border has brought the acrid smell of smoke and intermittent poor visibility mainly to southern parts of Finland. “The purpose is to get a briefing on the present fire situation. Undoubtedly we will also discuss what benefits there might be in sending Finnish firefighting aid”, says one of the two officials, Timo Forsman, fire chief of the eastern district of the South Karelia Rescue Department.
One of the aims of the discussions is to find out more about reported fires at landfills, and about what kinds of hazardous chemicals might be released from them. The plan is to visit the Vyborg landfill, where a fire is reportedly going on. “Naturally we also want to express our concern about the harm that the fires cause in Finland”, says Harry Frelander, an official at the Rescue Department of the Ministry of the Interior. On Tuesday, Minister of the Interior Kari Rajamäki (SDP) said in a press conference in Turku that he is preparing to meet Russia’s Minister for Emergencies Sergei Shoigu in Moscow soon. The aim of the meeting is to improve communications and cooperation between officials of the two countries. Rajamäki also said that it was agreed in discussions of three ministries on Tuesday that the Finnish Meteorological Institute should inform the public more efficiently about the possible appearance of smoke. Rajamäki said that this means that public smoke warnings would be issued, when and where necessary.
There was less smoke from the Russian fires in the air of Southern Finland on Tuesday than on Monday afternoon, when Helsinki was engulfed by a thick cloud. Air pollution briefly rose to levels that predominate in Mexico City, which is considered to be one of the world’s most polluted cities. More smoke is expected in the coming days, carried by winds blowing from the east. Health officials recommend staying indoors when smoke levels are high.
Although the smoke from forest fires in Russia has caused both physical and psychological irritation among residents of the south of Finland, health officials point out that wood fires in fireplaces and saunas cause more exposure to smoke particles in the long run than do forest fires. Speaking at a seminar on air protection in the southeastern city of Lappeenranta on Tuesday, Dr. Raimo O. Salonen of the National Public Health Institute said that transport and the burning of wood are the worst sources of small solid particles in the air. The Ministry of the Environment has drafted a proposal calling for emission limits for new wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. More public information is also planned on the right methods of burning wood, which can greatly decrease the amount of pollutants. Finland has an estimated 2.2 million wood-burning stoves for heating, and 1.5 million sauna stoves and water heaters that use wood as their fuel.