2020's baptism by fire in Latvia

Fire season in Latvia gets a bit dangerous when the illegal, but popular practice of burning last year's grass begins in the spring - over the weekend the State Fire and Rescue Service had to put out 121 such fires, but this year landfill fires are entering the ring too - one on March 28 in Tukums and another today in Rīga, according to Latvian Television.

Saturday VUGD firefighters had to put out 98 grass fires, but the most serious event happened when firefighters were called to put out an especially dangerous 2,000 square meter compressed trash fire at the Piejūra landfill in Tukums at 4:23 p.m., according to VUGD Prevention and Public Information Department employee Agrita Vītola. The 12-person fire and rescue team along with three fire trucks were quickly joined by an additional fire truck and colleagues from both Jūrmala and Tukums to put out the 200 tonnes of trash that was prepared for burning.

“We also had a hagar burning next to the trash that's in heaps outside. The hangar is next to it and also contained trash, I went in there and about 15 square meters were burning, but we were able to save that,” said VUGD Rescue Supervisor Dainis Bērziņš.

The fire was finally contained at 11:14 p.m., but additional fire fighting work went on into the night until 8:21 a.m. on Sunday. Neither the company nor VUGD representatives could say what was the cause of the fire, but State Police will begin investigating the case.

Luckily the territory didn't contain any dangerous or chemical waste, according to the State Environmental Service (VDD). Though the official cause of the fire hasn't been determined, VDD inspectors have suspicions that it could have been caused by last year's grass being burned off on the neighboring territory, according to VDD PR Director Kristīne Kļavniece. VDD inspectors are also continuing their investigation to determine the environmental impact, and whether changes should be made to the landfill's operational license.

Sunday VUGD put out an additional 24 grass fires, but were called to another landfill fire on Daugavgrīva Road in Rīga on Monday at 1:45 p.m.. The burning 300 square meters of trash were captured on Latvian Television's livestream cameras. Five fire trucks and 21 fire and rescue personnel showed up to the scene. VUGD reminds residents to keep windows and ventilation closed if they can smell the smoke.

2018 hectares of grass were burned in Latvia in 2018. VUGD would like to remind residents that burning last year's grass is illegal, and causes severe damage to property, people's health and lives, as well as the environment. When there is little rain the old grass gets very dry, and fires can be caused just as easily by a cigarette tossed to the ground as by malicious grass burners. If you notice someone burning grass, please call 112 and notify the State Police. If you want to help put out a fire before fire and rescue teams arrive, first evaluate the situation, then you can try to put out the burning grass with water, sand or evergreen branches.

Property owners and municipalities are legally responsible for keeping their territory tidy, which includes cutting the grass and getting rid of trash, especially anything flammable within 10 meters of a building. Burning is not an alternative to yard work. VUGD would also like to dispel a few myths about burning old grass that many Latvians still believe:

  • It's NOT possible to do a controlled burn - you can't predict wind and other circumstances
  • Grass burning DOES harm the environment, especially later in spring
  • Burning land does NOT make the land more fertile, it just diminishes biological diversity
  • Grass burning is NOT an effective way to fight ticks - it may kill a few, but most aren't yet active
  • It's NOT and old Latvian tradition - land was holy for Latvians, grass burning only began when it was brought in during Soviet times from Russia and Ukraine
     
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