Felling of trees to contain Bohemian Switzerland blaze begins

After four days, firefighters in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park are still struggling to get a large-scale forest fire under control. Now the felling of trees has begun with the aim of stopping the spread of the flames.

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

The forest fire in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park has now been raging for four days. Workers from the state-owned forestry management enterprise Forests of the Czech Republic, forestry company Uniles and the Bohemian Switzerland National Park itself, worked through Tuesday night felling trees using forest harvesters with the goal of creating a firebreak to prevent the blaze spreading to the east.

The cause of the fire remains unclear, and may never be known for sure. But deputy environment minister Tomáš Tesař said in an interview with Czech Radio that he can hazard a guess.

Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

“We know that there wasn’t a storm over the weekend so we can rule out a lightning strike. Most of the time the cause is human carelessness – that’s all I can say about it at the moment.”

More than 400 firefighters are now battling the fire in an area measuring some ​​1,000 hectares, almost an eighth of the entire area of ​​the park. Assistance has already arrived from other countries – Polish firefighters dropped 120 tons of water on the flames on Tuesday and Italy has provided machines with large-capacity tanks to help extinguish the fire.

Seven helicopters are working to put out the fire in the Hřensko area, which according to regional fire department spokesperson Lukáš Marvan is being kept under control: two helicopters each from the Czech army and police respectively, a private helicopter from the aerospace and defence company Czechoslovak Group, and one machine each from Poland and Slovakia. Two firefighting planes from Italy are also due to land in Vodochody near Prague on Wednesday afternoon.

Tomáš Tesař | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

The border crossing between Czechia and Germany in Hřensko is closed, and as of Wednesday, entry into the national park is prohibited. The Interior Ministry has called on people not to go to the park to take selfies. Deputy Environment Minister Tomáš Tesař commented on this to Czech Radio:

“A natural disaster like this unfortunately always brings with it the negative consequence of drawing crowds of people who want to see what is going on, and there are areas in the park where you can see the intervention by the firefighters as well as the fire itself.”

Mezná | Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

The fire has also affected villages surrounding the national park – three houses burned down in Mezná, and on Tuesday evening, about a hundred people had to be evacuated from Vysoká Lípa. Mezná and Mezní Louka, as well as most people from the area in and around Hřensko, were evacuated earlier on Tuesday to Děčín and other places. In total, around 450 people have had to leave their homes.

The government is set to debate possible aid for places affected by the fire on Wednesday.