Grass fire threat remains very real across Latvia

While the weekend is predicted to be damp, drier weather is expected soon, which is likely to see the grass fire or 'kūla' season in Latvia hit full stride.

The burning of last year's grass in the fields in early spring – which is illegal – is still a fairly common practise. Last year, 750 grass fires were registered in Latvia, and this year, many have already been recorded in several regions of Latvia.

In Latgale region, for the time being, the burning has been restricted to small areas, because in many places there is still snow on the ground and grass is wet, but the firefighters are anxiously waiting for the warmer weather promised by the forecasters.

In the Ludza region, several grass fires have already been registered this year. Also in the city itself, on Dzelzceļa Street, a 500 square meter area was burned. Now the ground is covered in black ash and the smell of burning still lingers in the air to testify to the recent fire here. Why a fire broke out here, on the side of the road, near the railway tracks, we can only guess – railway workers said they did not see anything.

Commander of the Rēzekne division of the State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD), Viktors Ščavinskis, explained that the firefighters have received a new fire engine and equipment, and that four vacant positionsin their team will be filled in the near future, but this alone is not enough to tackle the expected workload when kūla season is in full swing.

"Four events, grass fires, have been registered in the district of Rēzekne. The first one was registered with us on March 5. All four were registered in the district, so far none in the city. This year, the burning areas are small, but if we look at last year, then 16 hectares of bush burned, Ščavinskis said.

It is difficult to catch the arsonists, Ščavinskis admitted, but based on the information provided by the fire witnesses and landowners, the arsonists can be divided into three groups.

He stated: "The first group is middle-aged people and retirees who consider burning grass to be a cheap way to clean up the grass. The second group we have are children and teenagers who are playing around or deliberately burn things, and the third group includes careless smokers who throw away an unextinguished cigarette. An example would be drivers."

Last year, compared to 2022, the number of wildfires in Latvia halved. As VUGD representative Viktorija Gribuste emphasized, this is most likely not related to a change in the habits of the population, but to the weather conditions of last spring.

"Last spring was quite cold and wet, and then warm weather came very quickly, which meant new green grass grew very quickly. It is, of course, difficult to predict what this year will be like. So far, 165 wildfires have been extinguished throughout Latvia, though that the burning season hasn't really started yet We are looking at the weather forecast for Easter with great concern as it is currently forecast to be warm and sunny, there will be four holidays which unfortunately in our experience means that this combination suggests a large and extensive the number of fires," noted Gribuste.

Individuals found guilty of setting a grass fire face a fine of from 180 to 700 euros. As in previous years, this year also the VUGD will cooperate with the Rural Support Service, to which it will provide information on the kūla burning sites, which could result in farmers forfeiting part of the European Union support payments.

As previously reported by LSM, the first grass fires this year were recorded early – January 8. 

The VUGD repeats every year, that the burning of grass is prohibited and subject to penalties.  Despite the warnings and cases of damage to property and human health and life, and harm to the environment, burning the previous year's grass in Latvia is still seen as almost a national sport or tradition among certain parts of society.

Members of the public should call 112 if a grass fire or any other dangerous fire is spotted.

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