Fires won’t wait for cooler, wetter weekend

The weather continued its spell of dry, sunny and spring-like balminess Wednesday, breaking high temperature records on the Baltic seacoasts of Kurzeme and the Gulf of Riga shoreline in Vidzeme province. While Thursday should see a continuation of the same warm weather pattern, forecasters aren’t sure whether the arrival of increasing clouds will block the long-anticipated solar eclipse from being seen locally at around noontime Friday.

But one thing’s for sure: the fire hazard now threatening fields and forests throughout much of the land will remain high until Saturday, when a zone of precipitation and much cooler air will finally break the dry spell and mitigate the risks of the devastating blazes spreading further. Luckily, winds are forecast to be relatively calm until then.

Today the coastal towns of Liepāja, Pāvilosta and Ventspils in Kurzeme and Ainaži in Vidzeme all broke their local high temperature records for March 18 at +15 degrees Celsius. However, since Riga measured +17.6 degrees on this date back in 1990, the national record was not reached. Meanwhile, from the horn of Kolka down the Gulf of Riga coast of Kurzeme, temps were measured significantly cooler at +4.6 degrees.

The lack of any moisture for an extended stretch of days now has inaugurated the dreaded grass-fire season with a vengeance, as state Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) brigades have been called to blazes throughout the countryside as well as inside some provincial town territories all week long. On Wednesday the meteorological authorities warned that Latvia’s forests are now at a heightened risk of fires, urging residents to enter the woods carefully and exercise utmost caution with any use of fire.

While local government authorities are at a loss as to how to keep people from tossing cigarette butts out their vehicle windows or otherwise acting recklessly with the fire hazard now spreading more widely, a 79-year old man was held by police in Sala County near Daugavpils Wednesday for torching his overgrown 400-square meter grass field from the previous year. The elderly gent faces a fine from €30 to €280 for his administrative offense, reported national information agency LETA. However, the size of the blaze was nothing compared to Tuesday’s largest burn – 50,000 square meters in Krustpils County near Jēkabpils, which destroyed a woodshed as well.

VUGD has reported more than 200 grass fires extinguished each day this week, the largest of them registered in the south-central Zemgale provincial center Dobele (70 hectares of grassland) and the city of Daugavpils Latgale, where 60 hectares were ablaze Monday.

But the forecast for Friday calls for scattered light rain to arrive first in Kurzeme and Vidzeme provinces along with scattered cloud cover, which may disappoint eclipse-watchers in these regions, while Latgale and southern Zemgale may remain clear enough to witness the astronomical event unhindered.

The moisture is then expected to spread with a low-pressure system across the rest of the land Saturday. This should bring an end to the very low relative humidity (14%) that has prevailed during the first half of this week as more rain and snow are expected to fall overnight from Saturday to Sunday, leaving perhaps a dusting of snow cover on the ground.

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