Bohemian Switzerland National Park ravaged by devastating forest fire

Hundreds of firefighters continue to battle an extensive forest fire in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The blaze, which broke out in hard to access terrain on Sunday morning, was fanned by a strong wind and has now ravaged some 30 hectares of forestland. By Tuesday morning the smell of the smoke had spread nearly all over the country.

Fire in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park | Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

The devastating forest fire, which started in Bohemian Switzerland on Sunday morning, has already reached across the German border and has spread toward the Pravčická brána rock formation, one of the most striking sandstone monuments in Europe.

During Monday night the blaze destroyed the village of Mezná, but all the inhabitants had been evacuated and no one has been reported injured.

On Tuesday morning, firefighters had to evacuate another 50 people from the right bank of the Kamenice River in the town of Hřensko, which is also threatened by the blaze, as well as a German summer camp for children in Ferdinandov.

Environment Minister Anna Hubáčková, who attended a crisis meeting on the site, described the situation as critical and several countries, including Slovakia, Poland and Italy, promised to provide assistance.

Petr Ošlejšek, deputy head of the Czech Fire Rescue Service, says the situation in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park is complicated by the hilly terrain, full of sandstone cliffs and river gorges:

“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.

Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

“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 U.S., where we see these massive fronts of fire spreading.”

Following a meeting of crisis staff at the site of the fire, the chief of the Fire Rescue Service, Vladimír Vlček, said there was currently no need to declare a state of emergency.

He refused to predict how long it would take to get the devastating blaze under control, adding that it could be a matter of days.

Pavel Benda | Photo: Česká televize,  ČT24

Pavel Benda, head of the national park, says that while fires in Bohemian Switzerland are not that uncommon, the current devastation is unlike anything he had ever seen:

“We are no longer talking in terms of hectares, but rather square kilometres. 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.”

Meanwhile, firefighters have been battling another two forest fires elsewhere in the country in recent days. Due to the current weather forecast, which predicts no major rain for the next couple of days, a high-level fire-risk alert remains in place all around the country.