EU nations help Sweden as wildfires rage above Arctic Circle

Sweden is fighting its most serious wildfires in decades — including blazes above the Arctic Circle — prompting the government to seek help from the military, hundreds of volunteers and other European nations.

More than 50 blazes torch forests, mostly in central, western Sweden but also above the Arctic Circle

This aerial photo shows the advancing fire around Ljusdal, Sweden, as a wildfire sweeps through the large forest area on July 18. Dry weather has endangered large tracts of forest and many residential areas. (Maja Suslin/Lehtikuva via AP)

Sweden is fighting its most serious wildfires in decades — including blazes above the Arctic Circle — prompting the government to seek help from the military, hundreds of volunteers and other European nations.

As of Friday, more than 50 blazes were torching forests, mostly in central and western Sweden but also in the North, above the Arctic Circle, and on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland.

This is a serious situation and the risk for forest fires is extremely high in the whole country.- Jakob Wernerman, operative head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency

Swedish officials say the country's wildfires remain a serious situation, with the continuing hot and extremely dry weather making firefighting efforts very hard despite broad international help.

Britta Ramberg, operative director of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, which is co-ordinating firefighting efforts, said Monday the risk of new blazes is now particularly high in southern Sweden.

In this photo taken on Sunday, a fire engine arrives at the scene of a wildfire in Karbole, outside Ljusdal, Sweden. (Mats Andersson/TT News Agency via AP)

No deaths or injuries have been reported so far but large evacuations have taken place and thousands of people have been warned to remain inside with the windows shut to avoid breathing the smoky air. Finland and Norway have also reported wildfires in the past few days.

Some 500 voluntary soldiers from the Swedish military have been dispatched to help with Black Hawk helicopters in the central region of Alvdalen. 

In some areas emergency rescue services have called for all able-bodied men to help putting out the wildfires.

"This is a serious situation and the risk for forest fires is extremely high in the whole country," said Jakob Wernerman, operative head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency that is coordinating firefighting efforts.

Water-bombing planes, firefighters from abroad

The fires have come as Europe's Nordic region has experienced an intense heat wave in the past week. Temperatures have reached over 32 C throughout Finland, Norway and Sweden. The weather also has been dry with no substantial rain for weeks — making the region's brush and forests highly flammable.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Friday that his government is working "every minute" to get necessary resources to the hundreds of firefighters and emergency workers.

An aircraft helps to stop the advancing wildfire near to homes, outside Ljusdal, Sweden, on July 17. (Maja Suslin / TT via AP)

Sweden has received assistance — including water-bombing planes, helicopters and staff — from Italy, France and Norway. Germany, Lithuania and Portugal have also pledged assistance, while Poland sent 139 firefighters and 44 fire trucks.

On Thursday, France delivered two Canadair CL-415 water-bombing planes, which can carry 6,000 liters of water at a time. Dozens of French soldiers arrived early Monday.

'Sweden is burning!'

Swedish media have shown dramatic footage of blazing forests, helicopters dropping water and firefighters trying to put out flames.

The Aftonbladet tabloid has run a special section titled "Sweden is burning!" that just covers news on the blazes. In an interview, water-carrying helicopter pilot Bjorn Franzen noted the difficulty of the mission.

"We fly mostly in low altitude. It's often difficult to see anything from the smoke," he told Aftonbladet.

"It can be extremely difficult to see where our input is needed. Sometimes the wind changes direction and then we need to resort to different tactics."

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