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Sweden ramps up battle against dozens of wildfires

July 19, 2018

Italian planes and Norwegian helicopters have been deployed to help tackle more than 40 large blazes across central Sweden. Fires were also registered in the country's northernmost county in the Arctic Circle.

An aerial view of Sweden wildfires
Image: Reuters/TT News Agency

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Thursday visited an area of the Nordic country worst hit by dozens of wildfires, as firefighters struggled to douse the flames brought on by an extreme heat wave.

"The situation we find ourselves in is extraordinary," Lofven said, adding that the country needed to better orient itself to extreme weather.

Fire chiefs said they were tackling 44 large forest fires and that multiple villages in the counties of Gavleborg, Jamtland and Dalarna had been ordered to evacuate their homes.

The three areas are engulfed by the largest blazes — encompassing an area of 200 square kilometers (77 square miles).

Flames spread quickly

One evacuee, Evert Hansson, told Swedish radio station SVT how the scorching fumes fire spread rapidly, leaving her only 20 minutes to pack her things and hitch her camper van. "It only took a few hours for large parts of the forest to go up in flames," she said.

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire in Karbole, Sweden
In the worst blaze, an area 25 times as large as New York's Central Park has gone up in flamesImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Andersson

Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) fire chief Britta Ramberg told Swedish TT news agency that the fire in Jamtland was "spreading the fastest" at some 10 square meters (100 square feet) per minute.

After requesting emergency help from the EU on Wednesday, Swedish authorities received firefighting planes and helicopters from Italy and Norway and were expecting two special aircraft from France to arrive.

Facing criticism that the country doesn't have its own firefighting aircraft, Lofven said ownership wasn't as important as having access to them in an emergency.

"Let's have this discussion later, we'll evaluate it thoroughly," he said. "Right now my focus is on extinguishing these fires here and now."

Read more: Will extreme weather become even deadlier?

The fires also affected Lapland, Sweden's northernmost region, which lies within the Arctic Circle.

The town of Jokkmokk, a popular winter tourist destination, was threatened by fires in the vicinity. Rescue officer Thomas Andersson told AFP news agency that in Jokkmokk, a wildfire of this magnitude had not been seen in 12 years.

Aircraft try to put out a wildfire in Sweden
Dozens of fires have hit central Sweden and even reached the Arctic CircleImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Suslin

Record heat

In recent days, meteorologists in Sweden have warned of extremely hot temperatures gripping the country, noting that it was unusual for a heat wave to last this long.

Temperatures in the city of Uppsala, north of Stockholm, reportedly reached over 33 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) this week. It was the hottest temperature recorded there since 1947.

Read more: The global heat wave that's been killing us

Daily news site The Local Sweden noted that the combination of unusually warm temperatures early in the summer and an ongoing drought have put the country at "extreme risk" for forest fires.

Neighboring Norway has also been hit by wildfires in 100 localities last week, in the south of the country. Some of the fires were triggered by lightning.

mm, jcg/ng (AFP, AP, dpa, EFE)

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