More than 70 forest fires have raged through Sweden during July, normally the rainiest month of the year, following a period of drought.
A record-breaking number of warning messages to the public (so-called VMA) were issued during a 24-hour period as evacuations took place across the country. In the county of Dalarna in the center of the country, a fire covering an area of five square kilometers is threatening an army shooting range where live ammunition is stored, prompting a halt in the fire fighting operations due to fears of explosion. The nearby area of Trängslet is being evacuated.
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The largest fires are located in the municipalities of Härjedalen and Ragunda: in the former, one fire covers an area of 16 square kilometers (6.1 square miles). As of July 20, around 40 fires were reported, four of which were reported by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) to be so large that they currently can not be put out. Rescue services are instead focusing on containing them, and leading them away from populated areas.
The MSB has sent a formal request to the European Union for additional fire-fighting airplanes beyond the aircraft and personnel already sent by Italy and Norway. With a loading capability of 6,000 liters of water per plane, the Italian planes will mainly be used in Dalarna and Gävleborg.
Copernicus satellite data processed by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) indicate several “burnt areas” in Sweden, standing out as an outlier to other countries in the EU.
The trend seems global, as large wildfires have been reported in places like Siberia and Greenland. EFFIS has warned that extreme conditions are likely to continue across northern and central Europe, areas traditionally considered outside the “traditional European fire zone”.
“What we’re seeing with this global heatwave is that these areas of fire susceptibility are now broadening, with the moors in north-west England and now these Swedish fires a consequence of that,” Vincent Gauci, professor of global change ecology at the Open University told The Guardian.