Grass fires blight Easter holidays

Dry weather over the extended Easter weekend proved too much to exist for firebugs in recent days with a spate of grass fires, known locally as 'kūlas' reported LSM's Latvian service.

Fire crews were kept busy round the clock as farmers and landowners ignored the law and repeated official advice to cut and compost last year's grass instead of simply torching it in situ.

In a 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday alone, fire crews received 188 calls, of which 118 were to grass fires.

Over the four days of the Easter holidays, State Fire and Rescue teams responded to more than 700 calls, around 500 of them grass fires.

Inevitably, several of the environmentally damaging conflagrations raged out of control, leaving firefighters struggling to prevent idiocy turning into tragedy.

State Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Viktoria Gribuste told Latvian Radio: "In many places fire crews left their bases in the morning and did not return until the evening, spending the whole day going from one fire to another." 

Spring field fires were commonplace during the Soviet period as a means of burning off old growth and preparing for the new growing season, but many seem unable to shake the habit during the following decades. 

Now anyone found to have deliberately started a kūla fire faces prosecution and a stiff fine.

Nor were the fire-setters the only idiots at large over Easter. Police reported an increase in he number of drunk drivers compared to last year.

The State highway police's Normunds Krapsis told LTV's Rita Panorama morning news broadcast officers had issued more than 1,000 tickets over two days, including 85 for drunk driving and 3 for driving under the influence of narcotics.

One driver was clocked doing 206 km/h (126mph) on public roads.

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