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Report: mistakes made in Swedish forest fire fight

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Report: mistakes made in Swedish forest fire fight
10:25 CET+01:00
Last summer's massive forest fire in Västmanland might have been less serious if the response had been different, a new report said. Mistakes by emergency services, communes and counties made a bad situation worse.

When the blaze started on July 31 last year, the fire risk in the area was extremely high. While the blaze covered an area of about 900 square meters when it was reported, it had grown to 240,000 square meters when emergency services arrived on the scene after a 40-minute delay.

“It’s very unfortunate that [emergency services] didn’t go to the scene right away,” said Aud Sjökvist, the government’s investigator who led the assessment. “Seeing that the weather was dry and hot, they should have realized that the fire would spread.”

The initial teams fighting the fire couldn’t contain it and by evening, some 150 hectares were burning, an area equivalent to about 200 football pitches. By the evening of Aug. 4, the blaze covered 14,000 hectares, or an area covering 20,000 football pitches.

The fire, which killed one person and seriously injured two, started on July 31 and wasn’t brought under control until Aug. 11.

The report contains a list of shortcomings that enabled the fire to spread so rapidly and cover such a huge area. No risk assessment was done by emergency services in the initial stages, and there was a shortage of personnel and material on hand during the first days. It took three days for a strong leadership team to be put in place. In addition, there was insufficient knowledge about how a fire of this magnitude should be fought.

“There are well-designed strategies on how to fight forest fires, but they often reflect what you wish for rather than what you can really do,” said Sjökvist. “In this case, there was no coordination between the operational leadership and experts. For example, help wasn’t accepted from the National Home Guard or forest companies.”

Sjökvist called for the creation of a national management model and a list of general principles that would lead to quicker decision-making in the event of disasters and crises.

“So, there’s a lot to do,” she said.

In a press release, Home Affairs Minister Anders Ygeman said: “The investigation points to a lot of shortcomings. Now we are going put in place measures to improve the situation so we can do better when it comes to future disasters.”

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