Forest fire rages on in central Sweden

Radio SwedenEye on the Arctic

A forest fire that started last Thursday in Västmanland in central Sweden is still raging, and firefighters went back to work putting it out Monday morning.

Nine volunteers have been trapped in the forest since Monday afternoon.They were volunteering to drive water out with tanker vehicles. Firefighters are now trying to put out the fire along the road with helicopters so that they can go in with fire trucks and rescue the volunteers.

“It is very hot, extremely dry on the ground and quite harsh winds, which makes it tough to control the fire from spreading,” Fredrik Eriksson, public relations head for emergency management in Västmanland, to Swedish Radio local channel in Västmanland.

Area evacuated

The area of Gammelby, near the fire, was being evacuated Monday. It was unclear how close the fire has spread to the area, but Fredrik Eriksson said that close enough for an evacuation to be necessary.

And officials have urged private individuals to not enter the area to try and help, given the risk involved.

“The night was quite calm. We have kept watch over the fire’s border. So far it has looked calm and we have dispersed our forces as needed,” fire fighter Mats Sundelius told Swedish Radio News.

The fire started Thursday and was still raging Monday through parts of Västmanland county. It has been difficult to contain the fire because it is burning in such difficult and inaccessible terrain. The fire has spread past its border in several places, and firefighters are working to contain it.

Focus on preventing fire from spreading north

Now there are upwards to 24,700 acres of the forest burning.

“The main focus is to stop the fire from spreading towards the northwest and northeast,” Sundelius said.

Sundelius also said that they are bringing in helicopters to douse the flames with water from above. Swedish Radio News reports that an Italian water bomb plane is expected to help.

The most effective way to battle the fire is to send in helicopters with water bombs and then supplement that with fire hoses and water, according to fire fighters. But the rising smoke makes it risky for helicopters to fly and difficult to see where to drop the water.

Around one hundred people are involved in the effort. And an special Italian water-bombing plane has been called in to help combat the blaze. The plane can scoop water up from the sea and dump it on the burning forest.

‘Catastrophic situation’

Helene Bäck, a forest owner whose trees are getting burned by the fire, said that she is worried about the fire spreading.

Bäck called this a catastrophic situation, saying that the fire isn’t under control and they don’t know if it’s going to spread in the warm weather. She doesn’t know how much of her forest has been burnt because it is difficult to gauge how much the fire has spread, so she doesn’t know how much financial damage the fire is causing her business.

Bäck said that she has never seen a forest fire rage for so long and spread so much in Sweden.

“Absolutely not. I think there have been extremely few times such a big fire has struck Sweden,” Bäck said.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.