Sweden is battling dozens of severe, drought-fueled forest fires raging across the country, despite the loan of firefighting planes and helicopters from its European neighbors.
Thomas Aronsson, chief of operations for SITS, a specialist firefighting service based in Sweden, said Wednesday that fire service agencies were fighting around 80 fires across the country and lacked the necessary equipment.
“We need tankers, we need helicopters – we don’t have enough supplies,” he told CNN. “There are 80 fires right now in Sweden, and there is no helicopter company or pilot in all of Sweden that’s not involved in fighting these fires.”
“A lot of firefighters who currently have vacation have volunteered to come out and fight these fires,” Aronsson said. “It’s a little too early to say how it’s going to go. With such high temperatures, these are tough conditions to be fighting a fire.”
On Tuesday the European Commission responded to Sweden’s call for help, sending two firefighting planes from Italy to help tackle the blazes.
The planes, both Canadair CL-415 models capable of carrying 6,000 liters of water, are using as their base of operations Örebro, a city in southern Sweden, and have been deployed in affected regions further north, according to the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB).
It is the second time this summer that Sweden has requested support to tackle large fires, according to the European Commission.
Norway also responded to the call with a loan of helicopters, according to the MSB.
’Exceptionally dry and hot’ weather
Sweden finds itself in a dire situation thanks to an extended period of above-average temperatures and very little rainfall. After a wet autumn and winter, things changed dramatically in May, mirroring conditions across much of Europe.
“It has been exceptionally dry and hot during May, June and early July,” said the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute in a warning released this week that highlighted a risk of water shortages for nearly all of central and southern Sweden.
The month of May was considered exceptional, as Stockholm averaged 16.1 degrees Celsius for the month, almost six degrees higher than usual.
“That we should experience such a high average temperature in Stockholm in May – 16.1 degrees – is an occurrence which, statistically speaking, happens just three times in a million years,” according to Gustav Strandberg, a climate researcher at SMHI’s Rossby Centre.
With low rainfall and higher average temperatures increasing evaporation rates, vegetation is dry and prone to fire.
It is unclear what triggered the current spate of blazes. Outdoor fires have been prohibited in several of the affected regions since May. SITS operations chief Aronsson said that lightning following a thunderstorm Saturday could have sparked them.
“If we had better weather conditions we could put out the fire much earlier,” he said. “But right now all we can see is a very big sun in the sky. And some reports have this weather continuing until mid-August.”
This week has seen the hottest temperatures so far this year across the country, with Stockholm topping 30 degrees Celsius for the fifth consecutive day on Wednesday.
’We are praying for rain’
Sweden is not the only country facing unusual cases of wildfire this summer. Finland, Norway and Russia are also currently tackling a number of large fires.
In the US, drought-fueled wildfires raged across swaths of Alaska, California, Colorado and other western states earlier this month, destroying more than 100 homes and forcing the evacuations of more than 2,000 households.
The UK, generally known for its rainy weather, has not escaped either. In the last few days, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has responded to a number of large grass fires across the UK capital, including the “biggest grass fire” in the service’s history, which swept across 100 hectares of grassland in East London on Sunday.
“I never thought I’d say this, but we are praying for rain,” LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said Monday.
Last month, a fire on Saddleworth Moor in northern England consumed at least 2,000 acres of moorland before firefighters contained the blaze.
Record-breaking temperatures have spread all the way to the Arctic, with numerous locations across northern Scandinavia inside the Arctic Circle reaching all-time highs.
Heatwaves such as this one are becoming increasingly common with climate change, especially in the northernmost latitudes.
The polar regions are warming much faster than the rest of the planet, with air temperatures over Arctic land increasing by up to five degrees Celsius, according to the International Panel on Climate Change.