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'I didn't expect this could happen in Sweden': Polish firefighter in Kårböle

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'I didn't expect this could happen in Sweden': Polish firefighter in Kårböle
Polish firefighters in Sweden. Photo: GFFFV Poland
16:47 CEST+02:00
The chief of a group of Polish firefighters helping Sweden battle a spate of wildfires says the hot and dry conditions are "perfect" for just one spark to cause more blazes.

Several EU countries have sent aid to help Sweden battle wildfires on an unprecedented scale in the Nordic country. Poland delegated the biggest squad, with 139 firefighters and 44 vehicles. They are based in a camp in Sveg, Jämtland and are operating in two areas of wildfires in Sweden. The Local spoke to Michal Langner who leads the Polish mission and is currently working in Kårböle in the county of Hälsingland.

When The Local's reporter calls Langner at 6pm on Wednesday, as agreed, he says he's still busy with the fire. When we get to talk the next morning and ask when his unit finished work the night before, he says: "We didn't finish the work, we continue in the same place where we started over a day ago."

Due to the risk of further spread of fires, the village of Kårböle was evacuated last week. Langner says his team has now built a seven-kilometre defence line and is struggling to stop the fire crossing this line. Extremely hot temperatures of over 30C and gusty winds make it more challenging.

Scroll down to watch a video of the Polish firefighters in Sweden.


Langner, right, discusses with his colleagues what to do next. Photo: GFFFV Poland

Langner, who is 39, has experience working during earthquake and flood emergencies in Nepal and Haiti and has done multiple training sessions with Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is coordinating efforts to fight the fires. But the scale of wildfires that are ravaging Sweden now is "something extraordinary".

"Personally I didn't expect that a situation like this could happen in Sweden. We know that every year the fires destroy huge territories in Greece, Spain – in the south of Europe. But Sweden is not a country which is the first one to pop in your mind when we talk about such huge forest fires we are dealing with now," he tells The Local.

The teams of Polish firefighters have been on the ground continuously, taking nine-to-ten-hour shifts. Langner explains that his country would typically send one unit but since the fires in Sweden are spread out, it was more efficient to send two rather than relocating one from place to place.

Since they came to Sweden in the early hours of Monday morning, they have settled in camps: they brought their own tents, food, and fuel, as well as their own medical rescuers. The mission is supported by fire trucks and helicopters. It was initially planned for 14 days, until August 6th, but if the conditions don't improve, it may be extended, Langner says.

"We are here for you and we are trying to do everything we can to help you. And we are happy that you also give us support," he emphasizes, directing his message to people in Sweden.

SWEDEN FOREST FIRES: How to stay safe in rural Sweden


Polish fire and rescue services' own images of the work in Sweden. Photo: GFFFV Poland

Some of his colleagues come from the forested areas of Poland, so the landscape and conditions are similar to Kårböle. But the intensity with which the new fires have spread is surprising even to them. "The ground is dried out, trees are dried out, the conditions are perfect for a small spark to cause a new fire," Langner warns.

As of Thursday afternoon, 25 wildfires were still burning in the country, and national forecaster SMHI predicts several of the areas could get some help from rain in the coming days. While the Polish team leader praises cooperation and coordination between his Swedish colleagues and local authorities, his biggest hope is still for the rain to come.

On Wednesday the Swedish Armed Forces even dropped a bomb over a forest in Älvdalen, central Sweden, after 13 days of wildfires. Since the area contained undetonated shells it was unsafe to send firefighters there. Fighting fire with fire was seen as a last resort, but the preliminary assessment concluded it had a positive effect.

On Friday southern Sweden remained at "extreme risk" of wildfires, according to SMHI.

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