Swedish Forest Owners Gird for Losses in Largest Forest Fire

Sweden’s forest owners are preparing for large losses as French and Italian water-bombing planes arrived to help emergency services gain control of the biggest forest fire in the Nordic country’s modern history.

One reconnaissance aircraft and two water-bombing planes arrived from France while Italy sent two aircraft, according to the local emergency services. They will use water from nearby lakes or from lake Maelaren, south of the engulfed area.

The blaze, near Sala about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the capital Stockholm, has been raging since July 31. The main forest owners in the affected area -- Sveaskog AB, Bergvik Skog and AB Karl Hedin -- have lost thousands of hectares of trees since the fire broke out. The fire has affected an area covering 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres).

“We can’t yet say how much we’ve lost but it’s of course large sums of money given that such a big area has burned,” Helene Baeck, a spokeswoman for state-owned Sveaskog, said by phone today. The company has managed to contain the fire on its land since Aug. 2, she said, adding that 1,000 to 1,500 hectares of Sveaskog’s forests have burned.

‘Very Hard’

So far about 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes while the roughly 4,500 inhabitants of Norberg prepared to leave their homes yesterday as the fire spread. The town is no longer threatened by the blaze, authorities said today.

The emergency services have yet to put to work the airplanes that have arrived.

“The planes have arrived but we haven’t been able to start water-bombing because of the weather -- the visibility is too poor at the moment,” Marcus Johansson, a spokesman for the emergency services, said by telephone today. “The spread of the fire is under control and we’re now working to get control of the work to put out the fire.”

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) on Monday, the highest August temperature recorded in Sweden since 1992. Dry heat and wind on Monday drove the flames into treetops.

Falling Temperatures

Temperatures in Norberg are forecast to range between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius in the coming five days, according to weather forecasts from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute. There may be some rain in the area today and on Aug. 10, the forecasts show.

The blaze had spread to cover an area of 150 square kilometers and emergency services have deployed some 150 firefighters, while the military has a further 150 people in the area. There are a total of 17 helicopters deployed to contain the fire.

The site of the blaze consists mainly of pine trees, bogs and marshlands, surrounded by lakes. The fire is thought to have started during ground work as machines prepared to plant new trees, according to Sveaskog, Sweden’s largest forest owner. The blaze didn’t start at any of Sveaskog’s sites, the company said.

Bergvik Skog, whose biggest shareholder is Helsinki-based Stora Enso Oyj, said at least 2,500 hectares of its forests have burned. It’s too early to estimate the cost as the fire is still raging, spokesman Lars-Erik Wigert said by phone. AB Karl Hedin has lost at least 1,000 hectares of forest, Dagens Industri newspaper reported today, citing the company.

“We have customers in the area but it is too early to say what the extent of the damage is -- people are currently focused on getting to safety,” Kajsa Svaerd, a spokeswoman for the Nordic region’s largest property and casualty insurer If, said in a telephone interview today. “We haven’t received that many claims so far but expect more during the week.”

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