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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Hundreds flee from island fire

Just as one major brushfire was brought under control on Wednesday, another broke out: Nearly 430 residents were evacuated Wednesday afternoon as a new blaze burned out of control on the island of Frøya in Sør-Trøndelag. While no homes were under threat, dense smoke caused breathing problems for many residents.

An aerial shot over the uncontrolled fire on the island of Frøya, Sør-Trøndelag. More than 400 residents were evacuated on Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Skogbrann Helikopter
An aerial shot over the uncontrolled fire on the island of Frøya, Sør-Trøndelag. More than 400 residents were evacuated on Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Skogbrann Helikopter

Residents of 180 homes between Gurvika and Tungvåg were ordered to leave and head to the main town of Sistranda on Wednesday afternoon. A nursing home and kindergarten at Nesset northeast of the fire front were also evacuated, reported newspaper Adressa. Emergency services urged everyone who could smell smoke to leave for a safe place early.

Four emergency service helicopters battled strong south easterly winds to dump water on the fire, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Some were diverted to Frøya from the devastating Flatanger fire in Nord-Trøndelag, which police reported had finally been extinguished around midday on Wednesday. All fire crews from Frøya and the nearby island of Hitra were deployed, and extra firefighters from Snillfjord and the Norwegian Civil Defense were en route to Frøya on Wednesday afternoon.

The Frøya fire was first reported around 11am between two lakes, Ervikvatnet and Hammarvatnet. While there’s plenty of water available, strong winds quickly whipped up the blaze and fanned the fire through forests and rough terrain that was difficult for crews to access.

It wasn’t immediately known what started the fire. Many parts of Norway have remained on high fire danger alerts all week because of strong winds and unusually dry conditions. “Yesterday I expressed my concern and nervousness,” Frøya fire chief Andreas Tingdal told Adressa. “It is so tinder dry that one cigarette butt is enough to ignite. But we know nothing about what has started this fire.”

Residents preparing
Inger Bjørgan lives in Sistranda, north east of the fire front. She said many with homes in the area rushed back from work to pack their most valuable possessions. “Now the wind is blowing away from houses, so we’re not directly at risk right now, but because of the catastrophic fires in Lærdal and Flatanger we’re not taking any chances,” she told NRK.

A class of school students from Sistranda was out on an excursion near where the fire broke out, but all escaped unharmed. “We have received word that everyone came safely back to the school, but some of the students are scared about what happened,” Svanhild Mosebakken, a Frøya municipality councilor said. “We’re in the process of taking care of them.”

Flatanger fire controlled
Meanwhile, police said the fire that had raged through the Flatanger peninsula in Nord-Trøndelag was mostly extinguished around midday on Wednesday. A few spot fires remained. Some residents were escorted back to their homes to collect belongings.

At a press conference that afternoon, police revised the damage toll to 55 buildings destroyed, reported Adressa. Emergency services initially feared all 139 buildings on the headland had been razed. Four of the buildings that burned down were homes, belonging to permanent residents. Others that did not burn down could still be badly damaged inside, and condemned. Insurance agency Gjensidige forsikring estimated the damage bill would be between NOK 150 to 160 million (USD 24.2 to 25.8 million).

See how the idyllic seaside communities of Hasvåg and Småværet looked before they were devastated by fire (external link, in Norwegian).

The buildings destroyed included a historic waterfront trading post that had been in Lillian Mårvik Engbakken’s family for a century. She and her husband Nils lost three houses, two piers, a shop and a pub. “Everything of ours is gone, it’s just ashes now,” said Nils. The couple plans to rebuild the tourism business, but said much of the Småværet heritage has been destroyed. The area was particularly hard hit.

Royal message
King Harald wrote to Flatanger residents, saying he’d followed the fire disaster with great concern, and his thoughts were with the people. “My family and I feel for all those who have lost their land, homes and communities,” he wrote. “At the same time I’m grateful that no one has been badly injured. I am impressed by the efforts of rescuers and volunteers under very difficult conditions.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg planned to travel to Flatanger this weekend. Woodgate



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