A prolonged heatwave has created a serious fire hazard in Estonian woods, and even the slightest imprudence could lead to unfortunate consequences, as recently happened at the Defense Forces’ central polygon last Friday.
Entering the central polygon, one is first welcomed by an acrid log fire smell and can see four or five pillars of smoke extending skywards. Around 20 rescuers have been battling the flames for five days. The fire had spread to an area of nearly 150 hectares by Monday.
Firefighters largely find themselves in the role of bystanders as explosive devices littered all over the polygon make it impossible to properly access the flames. Scattered explosions could still be heard coming from between the sod on Monday.
“The situation is unfortunate. There is nothing good to report. It covers such a large area that we just cannot access,” said local operations chief Livar Liblik. “It is a live fire area where we cannot go. All we can do is wait for the fire to reach the road and hope to contain it there, that’s it. We only have the plane putting out actual flames right now,” Liblik said.
Water not enough to put out the fire
The Rescue Board’s duty officer in charge Toomas Kääparin said that the fire at the 12-hectare central polygon is rather an unusual event for rescuers.
“We can only use certain paths as it is dangerous to enter the area, which means we are trying to stop the fire from spreading. We will leave a few spotters overnight but will conclude active efforts come nightfall. In addition to the plane, we also have a Police and Border Guard Board chopper to help us out today,” Kääparin explained.
The firefighter said that the board has been a little “spoiled” as recent years have been calm in terms of wildfires. Kääparin said that it is difficult to forecast when the fire could be put out. He said that the priority is to make sure the fire is contained to the polygon.
Even though Estonia has not seen wildfires cover such great areas for many years, firefighters say they are frequent visitors to the central polygon. Rescuers from the Aasukalda fire depot said that even if you soak the ground in water, fires will continue burning beneath it, and it is possible for tree stumps to burst into flames as many as 48 hours later. That is why it is always difficult to put out ground fires.
The fire hazard in Estonian woods remains great as a result of warm weather. The Rescue Board urges everyone to follow all safety precautions when lighting fires. Fires can only be lit in designated places during periods of high fire-risk and all manner of ground burning is banned year-round. Localized fires can grow into extensive forest and wildfires of tragic consequences in mere moments.