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Sweden Evacuates Homes as Biggest Forest Fire Threatens Town

Sweden Prepares to Evacuate Thousands of People as Fire Rages
A helicopter drops its load of water on the wildfire just outside the evacuated village of Gammelby near Sala, Central Sweden, on Aug. 4. Photographer: Fredrik Sandberg/AFP via Getty Images

Swedish authorities are preparing to evacuate thousands of more people as emergency services struggle to contain the biggest forest fire on record to hit the country.

The blaze, near Sala about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the capital Stockholm, has been raging since Thursday. Villages including Gammelby and Vaestervaala have been evacuated and preparations are in place for similar actions in Norberg, a town of 4,500 people, should the fire spread, according to the Vaestmanland County Administrative Board. The fires have so far claimed one human life.

Sweden has had a dry and hot summer, increasing the risk of forest fires. Temperatures in the region reached 35.1 degrees (95.2 degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday, the highest August temperature recorded in Sweden since 1992. Authorities, who have so far evacuated some 1,000 citizens, say they will need to also move people from Norberg if the blaze continues to spread.

“We fear that that the fire will spread so that it will reach close to Norberg toward the evening,” Fredrik Eriksson, a spokesman for the emergency services, said by phone today. “The fire has never been under control, at any stage.”

Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enstroem and Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson visited the affected area today. The blaze has been declared a matter of national interest.

International Help

The fire has already spread to cover an area of 150 square kilometers, and 110 emergency workers are now fighting to try to contain it. Sweden has asked for international assistance, requesting five planes able to drop water on the fire. Two of those are expected to arrive from Italy today, Eriksson said.

The area consists of pine forests, bogs and marshlands, according to forest owner Sveaskog. That company alone has lost as much as 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of forest in the blaze, according to its website. Bergvik Skog, whose biggest shareholder is Helsinki-based Stora Enso Oyj, is also affected by the fire, according to its website. It’s too early to say how much of its forests have burned, it said.

Engelsberg Ironworks, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Sweden’s best-preserved and most complete example of ironworks focused on superior grades of iron, is using helicopters to water bomb the surrounding area in an effort to protect the site from the fire. The ironworks, founded in the 17th century, was included on UNESCO’s list in 1993.

Swedish police said a badly burned person was found dead in the area of the fire just after midnight. The body is believed to be that of a male reported missing and a wallet found supports that theory, it said.

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