Residents in Prague have this week smelt something unusual on the wind—the smell of a raging forest fire devastating a national park more than 100 kilometres away.
The wildfire in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, mainly in Hrensko district, is off-the-scale in Czech modern history. Towards 500 firefighters are battling the fire, which has ravaged over 1,000 hectares of forestland since July 24. Around 450 people have had to be evacuated, although the fire was now seen as under control and no further evacuations were planned, according to the Czech News Agency.
The fire has reached across the German border in places and has spread toward the Pravcicka brana rock formation, one of the most striking sandstone monuments in Europe, officials told local media. During the night of July 25, the blaze destroyed the village of Mezna, but all the inhabitants had been moved out. No one was reported injured.
Czech environment ministry officials have briefed media that the fire was likely to have resulted from “human carelessness” amid the hot weather. Temperatures in the Czech Republic have reached the mid-30 degrees Celsius in the past week.
Pavel Benda, head of the national park, told Radio Prague that while fires in Bohemian Switzerland are not that uncommon, the current devastation was unlike anything he had ever seen. “We are no longer talking in terms of hectares, but rather square kilometres,” said Benda. “In the past, fires were always contained within a day, but now the situation gets even worse the next day. This is something that has never happened before. It is the first forest fire that destroyed residential buildings.”
Radio Prague also spoke to Petr Oslejsek, deputy head of the Czech Fire Rescue Service, who said the situation in the national park was complicated by the hilly terrain, full of sandstone cliffs and river gorges.
Said Oslejsek: “The terrain is extremely rugged and there are fallen trees, which makes it very hard to access, especially by land. During the night, we focused primarily on protecting the buildings. Now, during the day, we are going to try to slow the fire front.
“Due to the wind flow, there were several outbreaks that gradually spread. The fire is behaving much like we know from the southern states or from the US, where we see these massive fronts of fire spreading.”
Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubackova, who attended an on-site wildfire crisis meeting on July 26, described the situation as critical. She added that several countries, including Slovakia, Poland and Italy had promised to provide firefighting assistance.
Director general of the Czech Fire and Rescue Service Vladimir Vlcek said on July 27 that thanks to a massive deployment of airborne equipment, there could be an imminent breakthrough in the firefighting. However, it would depend on the weather, especially the strength of the wind, he said.
The wildfire will have a positive effect on the lives of wild animals in the long term, noted Vladimir Bejcek, dean of the environment faculty at the Czech University of Agriculture. He told the Czech News Agency that it was anticipated that the spruce forests would be replaced by mixed forests, which would create a much more favourable environment for animals.
"In a few years there will be an incomparably more favourable environment for animals," Bejcek said.