Forest fire danger sparks red alerts

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Warnings were going out this week that forest fire danger was at its highest possible level all over Southeastern Norway. More than a week of dry and unusually warm weather, with more to come, is making local forests highly vulnerable to going up in flames.

The hills and forests around Oslo, like here at Vardåsen in Asker, are now highly vulnerable to fires after a long period of unusually warm and dry weather. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Not only are all open campfires banned in all municipalities around Oslo, so is use of the popular if environmentally unfriendly engangsgriller, the portable grills sold in aluminum boxes. Local authorities have also banned their use in parks and other outdoor areas.

“You can grill at home, and in your own yards,” stressed Anders Martinsen, head of the fire department in suburband Asker og Bæreum, to newspaper Aftenposten. He cautioned, though, that even the heat of a portable grill can start a fire with conditions as dry as they are now. The only place they can be lit are at authorized campgrounds, in areas clearly designated as safe for grilling.

It was only a few weeks ago that record amounts of snow last winter still covered the grounds of the hilly, forested areas known as marka around the Norwegian capital. It’s melted after a spate of unseasonably warm temperatures so far this month, with forecasts calling for more warm weather in the Oslo area through the weekend.

It was a balmy 24C in Oslo on Tuesday, with weather service yr.no predicting temperatures up to 29C (85F) towards the end of the week. The warm weather is expected to continue through the weekend, before turning cooler next week.

Smokers were also warned to be especially carefully in putting out cigarettes before discarding their butts. Hikers or others out in the forests were urged to report any signs of smoke: “It’s better to report once too often than not enough,” Jan Gaute Bjerke, fire chief in Nedre Romerike, told Aftenposten.

Authorities were planning to mount a major forest fire exercise in Hakadal, north of Oslo, on May 29, to train for preparedness. Recent flooding in many areas of southern Norway has not reduced forest fire danger, noted state meterologist Kristian Gislefoss: “If you move just a few hundred meters from a flooded river, the terrain can still be very dry.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund