Sala Burning: Worst Fire in 40 Years Rages in Sweltering Sweden

Worst Fire On Record Raging in Heat Sweltered Sweden

(Sala Fire on August 5, 2014 as seen in this LANCE-MODIS satellite shot. For reference the fire front in this shot is about ten miles wide, the smoke plume, two hundred miles long. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

It’s been scorching hot in Sweden this summer.

Throughout June, July and into August, the Arctic country has seen day after day of record heat. Thermometers hitting the upper 70s, 80s, and even 90s have become a common event in a land famous for its cooling mists, Arctic lights, and frozen fjords.

By Wednesday of last week, the heat had reached a tipping point. Fire erupted across a ridge line just to the northwest of Sala, Sweden and about 120 kilometers north of Stockholm. The fire rapidly intensified, expanding as nearby towns fell under its shadow.

By Sunday, the blaze spread to encroach upon homes as an all-time high of 33 C (91 F) was recorded in Visby, Gotland even as tumultuous and oddly dry storm clouds brought with them more than 47,000 thousand lightning strikes, shattering Sweden’s all-time one-day lightning record and igniting numerous smaller fires throughout the nation.

On Monday, the situation reached a new extreme as numerous communities were threatened with black smoke billowing into streets and neighborhoods.

By today, more than 1,000 people were evacuated and one soul lost as the blaze expanded to cover a region encompassing 15,000 hectares — about equal to 21,000 football fields or 57 square miles. It is now the largest fire in at least 40 years to affect Sweden.

“I feel deeply concerned for the people who have been asked to leave their homes. I also understand that it is a very tough situation for all those struggling to fight the fire.” — King Carl Gustaf, on Tuesday, August 5

Forecast high temperatures Sweden

(Forecast high temperatures for Europe on Tuesday, August 5 show readings above 26 C [80] F extending well past the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Image source: WeatherOnline.)

Reports from the scene are of chaos with eyewitnesses comparing the event to a war zone. In Norberg, fires threatened to enter city neighborhoods as residents were obliged to stop seeking help from over 100 volunteers to defend their homes due to risk of loss of life. The decision to halt volunteer efforts came after 9 of the workers were trapped by encroaching flames.

The fires are extraordinarily energetic and appear to have engaged the basement layer. As with other recent Arctic fires in permafrost or near permafrost zones, areas well below the surface soil zone are involved, resulting in risk of a very intense, long time-scale event:

“It’s burning deep down into the ground and across large surfaces,” fireman chief Per Hultman said in an interview with Expressen. “It’s going to take months to extinguish.”

Norberg had not yet issued evacuation orders but officials there were advising the town’s 4,500 residents to pack their bags and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Sala Fire Races Across a local hillside on Monday

(Sala Fire races across a local hillside on Sunday, August 3rd. Image source: Here.)

A large scale response to the blaze includes a small army of fire fighters from three Swedish regions, the Swedish military and aid from the European Union nations France and Italy.

By Tuesday afternoon local time, the situation remained extremely dangerous with the blaze still raging out of control even as clouds and light rain moved in, providing firefighters with some hope that the fire might lose some of its extreme intensity. However, current reports still indicate that the situation at the site of Sweden’s worst fire in 40 years remained very tenuous with concerns that a shift in the wind to the north might sweep the fire on into Norberg.

Conditions in Context: Human Warming Means More Arctic Fires

Under an ongoing and repressive regime of human-caused climate change fires like the Sala blaze are expected to proliferate and intensify as time moves forward. A combined set of conditions including a permafrost thaw line moving rapidly northward, increasing record heat, temperatures that are rising at a rate twice that of the global average, and deadwood multiplying invasive species are just a few of the ways climate change enhances fire risk. The thawing basement permafrost is particularly vulnerable to fire once it thaws and dries. It creates a peat-like pile, in most places scores of feet deep, that can burn for extended periods and re-ignite long extinguished surface fires. Near or north of the Arctic Circle, there are almost no land zones not under-girded by a thick permafrost layer. It represents a very large pile of potential fuel for fires as it thaws.

So, unfortunately for Sweden and for other Arctic nations, the fire situation is bound to worsen as warming continues to progress.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

WeatherOnline

Emergency Crews Ready for Fire to Spread

One Dead, Hundreds Evacuated as Swedish Forest Fire Rages

One Dead as Swedish Fire Rages on

New Heat Record Sizzles and Strikes Sweden

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to John Lonningdal

 

 

 

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Permafrost Fires Advancing Toward Arctic Ocean Shores

Smoke from Siberian Tundra Fires August 1, 2014

(Smoke from Siberian permafrost fires entrained in wind pattern blowing over the East Siberian and Laptev seas. What can best be described as a synoptic pattern of smoke stretching for more than 2000 miles. For reference, we are looking at the heart of Siberia, the bottom edge of frame touches the Arctic Ocean. Total width of frame is more than 2000 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

From the Northwest Territory of Canada to a broad central section of Russian Siberia called Yedoma, the permafrost fires this year have been vicious, powerful and colossal. They have burned deep into the basement soil and permafrost layer, casting out billows of dense, smokey material that, at times, has blanketed a majority of both Siberia and the North American Continent.

In Minnesota, two thousand miles away from the still raging Northwest Territory fires, James Cole, who comments here frequently, noted:

Forest fire smoke here in N.E. Minnesota was off the charts yesterday! I went out to watch the blazing red sun sink below the green hills. This almost invisible red ball brought back an old memory from watching a sun set in San Diego County during a very bad fire out break back when I was home ported with my ship there. These Alberta fires are a huge distance from here, but I can guess at their size by the thick gray haze, the smell and a sunset just like one in an active fire zone. (In confirmation to this eye-witness report, the Minnesota Star Tribune’s Meteorologist Paul Douglas reports Heat, Smoke, and Thunder)

Smoke Plume GOES

(GOES satellite shot of smoke plume from Arctic fires crossing Minnesota late yesterday evening. Image source: GOES.)

You can see the vast plume of filtering across Minnesota in the above GOES satellite shot.

Fires that Burn Soil

These fires aren’t anything normal. They burn the land as well as the trees. They cast off an inordinately high volume of smoke, such that they are far more visible in the satellite shot than more southerly fires of similar size. And they continue to burn for weeks and weeks — with lands that were lit nearly a month ago still casting off smoke and fire from the same locations.

The quantity of material necessary to keep such fires burning from the same location day in, day out, must be immense and it is becoming increasingly obvious to this observer that woodland as well as the soil and, likely, the thawing permafrost itself have become involved. It is a basement layer that, when fully thawed can be scores of feet deep. A set of peat-like material that, were it to be sequestered, would likely turn into a hundreds foot deep seam of coal over ages of heat and pressure. Instead, it is now being liberated as fuel for fires by human-caused warming.

Wildfire burning near Laptev Sea August 1, 2014

(Wildfire burning near Laptev Sea on August 1, 2014. The terrain in this region is tundra and tundra lakes, similar to the Yamal region where methane outburst sites where recently discovered. Wildfire is the comet like feature in upper center frame. The shoreline of the Laptev is visible along the lower frame border. Note the steely gray pallor of smoke running south to north [top to bottom] through the image frame. For reference, bottom edge of frame is about 150 miles, fire front is approximately three miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

On the Canadian side, the fires have primarily remained in the same region, simply continuing to burn from mostly the same sources or spreading only to local areas. But on the Russian side, the fires have leapt from their original cauldrons to ignite in massive blazes along regions both east and west, north and south.

Over recent days, fires have been creeping northward along a ridge line toward the Laptev Sea. Yesterday, a large fire ignited in the treeless tundra just 70 miles south of Arctic Ocean waters. You can see a close up image of this fire in the MODIS shot above.

So we have hard tundra burning just 70 miles south of the Arctic Ocean. No trees here, just an endless expanse of thawing ground.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

Heat, Smoke, and Thunder

Hat tip to Colorado Bob (First Observation)

Hat tip to James Cole

 

 

 

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