STOCKHOLM—Forest fires are raging out of control across Sweden after one of the hottest and driest summers in decades.
So far, no casualties have been reported, but thousands of people are being evacuated from the most heavily affected areas in central Sweden.
There are dozens of separate fires, with the largest in three sparsely populated and heavily forested areas of central Sweden.
On July 18, the largest single fire covered an area of about 6,000 acres in the county of Jamtland, according to government estimates. Rescue operations leader Leif Ekstrom told local newspaper Ostersundsposten that about 10,000 acres already had been burned so far.
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency MSB characterizes the situation as “very serious.”
“There are other serious ongoing fires … but we prioritize the Jamtland fire since it’s the largest and fastest spreading one,” Britta Ramberg of the MSB told the TT news agency.
Several houses, primarily vacation homes, have been destroyed in Gavleborg county further to the southeast, local newspaper Hela Halsingland reported.
On July 17, 55 people were evacuated from their homes in northwest Gavleborg county, but that particular area was no longer under immediate threat by the next day, SVT Gävleborg reported. The situation is changing constantly, however.
Local resident Marco Hassholdt told SVT Gävleborg that his fishing camp was very nearly destroyed.
“I thought it was all over when the fire was just 50 meters from our house,” he said.
In Dalarna county, a large area was evacuated on July 16 as the fire threatened to engulf a military shooting range that houses explosives.
Hundreds of professional and volunteer firefighters, as well as military servicemen, are working around the clock to contain the fires. The MSB reported that two Italian firefighting aircraft with a crew of 13, called in through emergency EU protocols, have been deployed.
There is debate over whether Sweden should have to ask for support from the EU. One of the opposition parties in parliament, the Center party, wrote in a July 18 tweet that they want Sweden to buy a national firefighting aircraft. There are also discussions about the organization and use of resources, particularly helicopters.
The fires broke out after a long period, beginning in May, of severe drought and high temperatures across Scandinavia, which saw all-time records broken in Sweden. The drought has already destroyed an estimated 40 percent of the Swedish grain harvest, and farmers are being forced to slaughter their animals for lack of feed.
While the drought has affected all of Scandinavia, only Sweden and Norway are currently plagued with widespread forest fires. There are fires in Finland as well, but no worse than usual, thanks to rain in late June and early July, Swedish Radio reported.
Currently, Sweden is in the grip of another heatwave, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees, and according to forecasts, it will stay hot and dry with little or no rain in the affected areas over the next two days.