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Forest fire hazards extremely high this summer in Latvia

Due to extreme weather conditions, fire risks in forests are increasing. One spark can quickly destroy the forest over several hectares. The State Forest Service calls on the residents not to go in the forest during the hot weather, because it is the reckless behavior of people that is one of the main causes of fires, Latvian Radio reported July 13. 

An unfortunate example of this was the forest fire in Garkalne, which was spotted on Friday, July 9, afternoon, but which was only extinguished and contained on Sunday, July 11, evening. The fire was very intense as charred tree branches flew into the air, creating new fire sources in the fall, allowing the fire to move forward rapidly.

“That fire was moving forward quickly. [..] There was a real threat to the village of Garkalne,” said Deputy Head of Forest and Environmental Protection Division of the State Forest Service, Zigmunds Jaunķiķis.

Overall, more than 21 hectares of forest burned, mainly young trees. The reason for the fire is unknown.

Jaunķiķis said that the main cause of forest fires was human behavior. “Unfortunately, statistics show that in most of the fires that occur, there is a human behind it. Either recklessness, not thinking about the consequences, there is also malevolence. Like those same dropped [cigarette] butts…” said Jaunķiķis.

A dropped butt or match can set a forest on fire. Although it is allowed to light fires in forests in specially designed and dedicated areas, the Forest Service calls for an assessment of the need to do so, in these weather conditions.

Similarly, the movement of the vehicle may result in a fire accident. “When driving motor vehicles – quadricycles, motorcycles – offroad, in the forest, peat fields, the risk is very high because peat dust is accumulating on vehicle collectors, coal forms and is a very good start to the forest fire,” explained Jaunķiķis.

The State Fire and Rescue Service's representative Agris Šumanis also stressed that one of the most common causes of forest fires is the movement of vehicles through the forest area.

"Driving a vehicle through the forest is dangerous because most vehicles have catalyst systems installed in exhaust systems and are very hot to be able to burn harmful emissions. And if a catalyst surface comes in contact with dry needles, leaves, or maybe grass, it may be a cause for a fire. The vehicle can also burn in this way,” said Šumanis.

It is currently prohibited to drive motor vehicles through the forest and the swamp offroad. Any other activity likely to result in fire shall also be prohibited.

180 fire-tracking towers of the State Forest Service have been deployed throughout the country. Zigmunds Jaunķiķis said that the number of towers is currently sufficient to identify a forest fire in a timely manner. “The tower network is enough for us. The problems we have are finding and attracting seasonal workers – the observation tower employees – because unfortunately, the remuneration we can offer are not competitive. And this is a problem for us.”

Apart from the recent fire accident in the Garkalne forest, a total of 290 forest fires have been recorded in the country this year. The total area affected by the fire is more than 250 hectares.

Due to the high fire risk, the State Forest Service invites residents to avoid going into the forest unless necessary.

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