Finland suffers biggest forest fire in fifty years

A large forest fire ravaged more than 300 hectares in five days in a valley in northwest Finland, after an unusually hot start to summer in the Nordic country.

The fire, which broke out on Monday July 26 about 25 kilometers south of the small port of Kalajoki, located on the Gulf of Bothnia, weakened on Friday July 30 due in particular to rains in the area. However, the situation is not yet fully under control, according to the authorities.

“It is still burning, but the fire no longer progresses beyond a contained area of ​​300 hectares, the perimeter of which is 8 kilometers., explained to Agence France-Presse the chief of operations of the firefighters, Jarmo Haapanen. It will take at least a week, if not two or three, to manage to extinguish it completely. “

Some 250 people, including military reinforcements, were mobilized, as well as four helicopters, but no evacuation was necessary in this sparsely populated area, located about 500 kilometers north of the capital, Helsinki.

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A fire of unknown origin

While still relatively small compared to the huge fires that ravaged Siberia or Canada this summer, this blaze is the largest in Finland since the one that started fifty years earlier. “That of 1971 was 1,600 hectares”, explained Mr. Haapanen. The exact cause of the fire is unknown, he said. But the forests are dry after unusually hot June and July: the temperature has exceeded 30 ° C in several areas.

In the Nordic countries, forest fires were rare and under control for a long time, but the dramatic fires in Sweden during the summer of 2018 (nearly 20,000 hectares had gone up in smoke) revealed the growing vulnerability of Northern Europe.

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The Arctic and the outskirts of the polar circles are subject to more and more frequent heat waves, with a warming three times faster than elsewhere in the world, a phenomenon which increases in particular the risk of forest or tundra fires, according to scientists.

Finland is often cited as an example for its prevention of forest fires, with a prevention policy that had made it possible to divide by ten the areas consumed since the post-war period. Forest fires rarely exceed 50 or 100 hectares.

But global warming risks changing the situation. “If the climate warms our summers like this, I’m sure it will happen more often”, notes the firefighter Haapanen.

The World with AFP