Heat wave scorches Sweden as wildfires rage in Arctic Circle

Close to 50 fires are burning in many parts of Sweden, including in the central counties and in Swedish Lapland, inside the Arctic Circle, threatening forests near the tourist centre of Jokkmokk.
Close to 50 fires are burning in many parts of Sweden, including in the central counties and in Swedish Lapland, inside the Arctic Circle, threatening forests near the tourist centre of Jokkmokk.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Water shortages add to anguish of Swedes who link extreme weather to global warming

STOCKHOLM • As Europe grapples with near-record temperatures and sustained drought, Sweden has become the latest nation to confront a wave of wildfires as far north as the Arctic Circle, prompting the authorities to evacuate some villages and to appeal for help from neighbouring Norway and distant Italy.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, but the intensity of the fires and the extreme weather conditions earlier in the year have prompted anguished debate among some Swedes who have described the conflagrations in apocalyptic terms and linked them to global warming.

"It's very, very dry in most of Sweden," Mr Jonas Olsson of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said on Thursday.

"The flows in the rivers and lakes are exceptionally low, except in the very northern part of the country. We have water shortages."

Rainfall was only about a seventh of the normal amount - the lowest since record-keeping began in the late 19th century, he said.

"It has been a very strange year," the hydrologist added, referring to the swing from thick snow in winter, to a sudden warming in May to "very big" spring floods.

  • $96m

    Value of woodlands that the fires have devoured, according to Swedish news agency TT.

"Surely, it's an unusual situation. It is in line with what we would expect from a global warming perspective."

Last year, parts of Europe sweltered under a heat wave that residents in France, Italy and Spain called "Lucifer". And deadly fires swept Portugal and Spain.

But unusually this year, fires have consumed forests and moorland in parts of Europe that are much less accustomed to them.

Sweden, Denmark, southern Norway and northern Finland are experiencing a period of extreme heat which, according to weather forecasts, is unlikely to end soon.

The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter said 49 fires were burning in many parts of the country, including in central counties and in Swedish Lapland, inside the Arctic Circle, threatening forests near the tourist centre of Jokkmokk.

Temperatures there generally plummet far below zero in winter but soar in summer. The fires outside Jokkmokk are the most severe in more than a decade, according to the local fire service.

The Swedish armed forces and the Home Guard have been called in to help, Dagens Nyheter reported, because the emergency services do not have enough personnel or resources to fight the blazes.

The Swedish news agency TT said that the fires had devoured woodlands valued at almost US$70 million (S$96 million).

In Jamtland county in northern Sweden, 100 firefighters are working around the clock to battle eight blazes, said fire chief Lars Nyman.

"It started on Thursday with lightning storms," he said, and officers "had to evacuate a number of villages in our county".

"We need several days of rain to dampen the earth now. It won't be enough with a light shower."

Swedish farmers are being forced to disrupt their seasonal routines because crops such as fodder for animals are not growing the way they used to. The lack of fodder has already forced some farmers to send several of their cows to slaughter.

"It will take years to rebuild the quality and size of the cattle," said Mr Ulf Wallin, spokesman for the Federation of Swedish Farmers. He warned against wildfires at the beginning of the harvest season.

"This is the worst crisis for Swedish farmers in more than 50 years," he said, adding the loss is already estimated at over two billion Swedish kronor (S$307 million).

Apart from the lack of water, the milk from the cows is also a major concern. If the animals are not well-fed then their product's quality will suffer too. "They are not going to milk as much as I would like to," farmer Jacob Gustawson said.

Mr Palle Borgstrom, a dairy farmer who lives north of Gothenburg, said: "It will take many years to recover from this season."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2018, with the headline 'Heat wave scorches Sweden as wildfires rage in Arctic Circle'. Print Edition | Subscribe