Unseasonal forest fires ravage Europe
Hundreds of Norwegians and Swedes have had to leave their homes as forest fires rage in the south of Norway and Sweden.
Around 148 homes were evacuated around Sokndal in Norway, where fires have been burning since Tuesday.
Police say the fires are still out of control and warn that heavy winds could spread them.
April is very early for forest fires in Norway with wildfires also being tackled in Germany and the UK.
In Sweden, 10 fires of a “serious nature” have been reported by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) with the most severe covering 300 hectares in Hässleholm municipality in southern Sweden, forcing 49 people to evacuate their homes.
Last year’s hot summer set around 25,000 hectares of forest ablaze in Sweden, almost 10 times the yearly average, according to the government.
MSB said barbecues or forestry machines were largely to blame.
“The next few days look really bad,” said Anneli Bergholm Söder, head of operations at MSB, adding that more humidity was expected, which would probably improve the situation.
MSB also said Sweden was much better equipped to deal with the fires this year, using different private contractors and making up to 30 helicopters available for water bombing.
Fires in Europe “are way above the average” for this time of year, the EU’s European Forest Fire Information System (Effis).
“The season is drastically worse than those of the last decade.”
In Germany, the president of the Fire Brigades’ Federation (DFV) Hartmut Ziebs said only the army’s Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters were capable of airlifting 5,000-litre refillable water canisters that may be needed for summer wildfires.
“The fire brigades in Germany must have access to at least 10 more firefighting helicopters,” said Ziebs.
The fire chief said the DFV did not have its own special wildfire-extinguishing aircraft that were commonly seen tackling wildfires in northern America or southern Europe.
Germany’s DWD weather service said soil moisture deficits since Europe’s 2018 drought had not been relieved by winter rain.
This left pine forests on sandy terrain in eastern and northern Germany at risk of wildfires.
Germany’s Interior Ministry said the federal police had 12 Puma helicopters, which are only able to lift 2,000-litre water tanks.
Germany’s federal system means firefighting is the responsibility of the municipal authorities, not the central government.
Parliament had allocated an extra €100 million until 2022 for firefighting and disaster protection, an interior ministry spokeswoman said.
Europe needs a wet May. Picture credit: Wikimedia