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Finland suffers biggest forest fire in 50 years

Unheard of for 50 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 started on Monday about 25 kilometers south of the small port of Kalajoki on the Gulf of Bothnia, weakened on Friday, July 30 due in particular to rains in the area, but is not yet fully under control. , according to the authorities.

“Global warming is going far too quickly, not all species will be able to adapt”

“It is still burning, but the fire no longer progresses beyond a contained area of ​​300 hectares, whose perimeter is eight kilometers”, the chief of operations of the firefighters, Jarmo Haapanen, told AFP.

“It will take at least a week, or even two or three, to manage to extinguish it completely”, he judges.

Largest fire since 1971

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

While still relatively small compared to the huge fires that swept through Siberia or Canada this summer, the blaze is the largest in Finland since a fire in 1971, experts say.

“That of 1971 was 1,600 hectares”, explained Jarmo Haapanen.

The exact cause of the fire is unknown, he said. But the forests are dry after unusually hot June and July in Finland, where temperatures rose above 30 degrees in several areas.

Forest fires are rare in the Nordic countries

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 went up in smoke) revealed the growing vulnerability of Northern Europe.

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 which increases in particular the risk of forest or tundra fires, according to the reports. scientists.

“Global warming is going far too quickly, not all species will be able to adapt”

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, according to experts.

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.

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