Swedish authorities said the risk of fires spreading across the country will hit “extreme” levels this week as emergency services battle dozens of blazes that have already destroyed more than $100 million worth of forested land.
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency underscored the seriousness of the situation in a statement, warning of dangerous conditions as the dry and hot weather continues.
Sweden is now fighting four “critical” fires, with the risk of additional blazes deemed to be “very high,” especially in the south and in an area west of the capital Stockholm, authorities said. The natural disaster gripping Sweden comes amid a Europe-wide heatwave that has also led to blazes in the south. In Greece, more than 20 people have died as fires grip the Athens area. [Editor’s note: Subsequent news reports on the afternoon of July 24 revealed that at least 74 people have died in the Greek fires].
According to Sweden’s SOS Alarm service, which handles emergency calls, there were between 30 and 40 fires burning across the country on Monday, a number that fell to 21 on Tuesday morning. The Swedish Forest Agency estimates that about 25,000 hectares of forest and land are burning, or have already burned, representing a value of 900 million kronor, or just over $100 million.
Summer temperatures this year have hovered around 30 degrees Celsius across large parts of Sweden, whose northern tip crosses the Arctic circle. Precipitation has been unusually low, with parts of the south experiencing their driest season on record. From across Europe, governments have sent hundreds of firefighters as well as water-bombing planes and helicopters in what Swedish media have described as the European Union’s biggest effort on record to help a member state fight forest fires.
The cost of the international aid, which Sweden will have to cover, has yet to be calculated. Just getting access to the water-bombing planes from Italy, for example, carries a cost of 2 million kronor for the first eight days, not including actual flights, according to the newspaper Expressen. And Sweden will also need to cover the cost of fuel, salaries, food and accommodation for all the emergency services sent to help.
Back in 2014, when there was a severe fire outbreak west of Stockholm, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency got a bill of 20.5 million kronor after requesting international assistance in the form of water-bombing planes and helicopters, according to its website.
–With assistance from Kati Pohjanpalo.
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