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Monday, June 24, 2024

Fires, heat, drought can spoil summer

Millions of Norwegians are starting summer holidays in the midst of high fire danger, water restrictions and a heat wave. Bans have already been imposed on all campfires and not even traditional Midsummer bonfires will be allowed along the Oslo Fjord next weekend.

Midsummer Eve has often been cool and even rainy but summer so far this year has been hot and dry, prompting bans on traditional bonfires like this one at Bygdøy in Oslo in 2012. No other campfires or outdoor grilling in public areas are allowed either. PHOTO: Møst

“It’s extemely dry in the Oslo area, and that raises the already high risk of grass-, brush and forest fires,” Sigurd Folgerø Dalen of the capital’s fire and emergency services told reporters this week. Several fires have already broken out in Oslo’s marka, the hills and forests surrounding the city, from Kolsåstoppen in Bærum to Maridalen just north of downtown and Østmarka in the east.

The fires are by no means limited to the Oslo metropolitan area, with others scorching forests at Samnanger east of Bergen, at Etnedal in Valdres and around Østlandet. Lightning was blamed for a brush fire on the Hardanger mountain plateau, along with several others in Romerike and elsewhere in the southeast. At one point, emergency crews were battling 11 fires in the east while others broke out in Vestfold and Telemark.

The lightning (unfortunately not followed by much rain except for in Fredrikstad this week) and fires caused major problems for train traffic, halting Bergensbanen between Oslo and Bergen and knocking out the railroad’s electrical power elsewhere around Southern Norway. It’s the bans on traditional campfires and not least Midsummer bonfires that frustrate many, though: “The urge to light campfires is strong in Norway,” acknowledged Elisabeth Sørboe Aarsæther, head of the state preparedness agency DSB to newspaper Aftenposten, “but you must not do so now.”

Not even so-called engangsgriller, the self-contained aluminum tray-grills popular for use in city parks or just about anywhere outdoors, are allowed. They’ve been blamed for fire-fighters’ response that’s already cost more than NOK 7 million kroner in just inner Østfold, Follo and Romerike around Oslo during the past two weeks. In addition comes the cost to wildlife and the nature.

The extreme fire warnings are mostly a result of a cold but dry spring despite all the snow that fell last winter. It was still cold in Oslo in early May, but no significant rain has fallen since, turning what’s usually the most lush time of the year into yellowed lawns and withered flowers.

By Friday state meteorologists were expecting a heat wave with temperatures predicted to exceed 30C in many areas of southern Norway for at least another five days. That may not seem hot by European standards, but it is in Norway as early as June, and where few homes have any form of air conditioning. Temperatures at night weren’t expected to fall under 20C either, qualifying them as so-called tropenetter (literally, tropical nights) in Norwegian. Water temperatures in the Oslo Fjord and local lakes that were frozen just a month ago are approaching or even exceeding 20C.

Oslo officials have already imposed water restrictions, mostly in the form of bans on the use of sprinklers to water lawns and gardens. They’re also once again urging short showers and other water conservation measures to head off more serious bans on the use of water.

Farmers all over southern Norway also fear a drought like the one in 2018 that forced some to slaughter cattle because of the lack of grazing opportunities or enough locally produced cattle feed.

“There are many indications that we face the most dramatic climate summer in memory,” Norway’s government minister in charge of climate and the environment, Espen Barth Eide of the Labour Party, told state broadcaster NRK already last month. The Norwegian government, however, continues to firmly support the country’s oil and gas industries and remains unlikely to meet its own climate goals for 2030. Berglund



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