Sweden is battling a historic wildfire outbreak. Here’s what you need to know

Sweden is battling a historic wildfire outbreak. Here’s what you need to know

17 July 2018

Published by https://www.thelocal.se/

SWEDEN – UPDATED: Swedish firefighters have been battling throughout the summer in what has been described by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency as the country’s “most serious” wildfire situation of modern times. But just what are the causes, which areas are worst affected, and what is being done?

The heat came early

Not only is it particularly warm in Sweden at the moment, the heat also arrived early. While May can often be an up and down month where even the odd spell of snow isn’t unthinkable as far south as Stockholm, this year was a stark contrast. Sweden experienced its hottest May on record, and several cities saw their hottest individual May days since records began 150 years ago.

June provided some brief respite, but the heat returned as the month rolled into July, with many parts of the country registering temperatures of 30C or above for several days in succession, and some expected to do so for as many as five days in a row

The rain stayed away

It’s not only warm, many parts of Sweden have also been exceptionally dry this summer. That created an “extreme risk” for forest fire outbreaks as early as May, and the lack of rain is now so bad that the government is even considering state assistance for farmers struggling with the conditions.

Human error

Combine dry terrain with high temperatures and a lack of frequent rain, and the conditions are ripe for forest fires to spread, but the human factor shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Many of the fires are thought to have been started by people using disposable barbecues, despite a ban on lighting them and any other kind of open fire in the majority of municipalities at the moment.

The worst affected regions

On Friday afternoon, firefighters were tackling 52 different wildfires in Sweden, and across the month of July there have been three times as many fires as in the same period last year.

Though there have been wildfires across the length and breadth of the country this summer, the three worst affected regions are in central Sweden – Gävleborg, Jämtland and Dalarna.

In Älvdalen, Dalarna, efforts to extinguish a major forest fire moving through a target-practice area have been hindered by the presence of undetonated shells and an evacuation order is in place for the immediate area. In Ljusdal, Gävleborg, some residents have had to evacuate the area, as have those living in parts of Härjedalen, Jämtland and Nordmaling, Västerbotten.

In general the situation is less delicate further south, but national forecaster SMHI warns there is still a risk for forest fires in virtually every municipality. The map below shows where fires burned as of 9am on Friday.

The number of ‘Important Messages for the Public’ (VMAs), including evacuation orders and warnings for heavy smoke, was at 13 on Friday morning, which is a record according to SOS Alarm.

What’s being done

Firefighters are working tirelessly to try to contain and extinguish the fires, with the Armed Forces assisting in some instances, but weather conditions haven’t made life easy for them, and personnel numbers are stretched.
Thousands of volunteers have also offered to help. The Local spoke to some of those involved in the volunteer efforts on Thursday.

Assistance has also come from other countries. Norway has sent helicopters to help extinguish blazes from above, and firefighting planes have also been called in from Italy. France, Germany, Lithuania and Denmark have also offered assistance.

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