“It’s a warning”: Official says fire service must adapt to climate change

Fire in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park

The biggest forest fire seen in the modern history of Czechia is now under control. But the blaze at a national park in the north of the country has drawn fresh attention to the issue of climate change, with a senior officer saying the fire service must respond to drought.

Photo: Vojtěch Hájek,  ČTK

A wildfire at the Bohemian Switzerland National Park in the north of Czechia has hogged headlines for nine days.

Close to 1,000 fire officers have been working all hours to bring the situation under control and a number of countries have sent specialised aircraft to help Czechia in its moment of need.

The good news is that the end of this ordeal is now in sight.

On Monday evening the head of the national fire service, Vladimír Vlček, told reporters that the blaze in North Bohemia had finally been brought under control.

Not only is the blaze not spreading, the area where fire officers are deployed has shrunk to 600 hectares – and firefighters should soon be able to go home, Mr. Vlček said.

Vladimír Vlček | Photo: HZS Moravskoslezského kraje

“As regards the expected duration of the liquidation of the fire, my estimate is that it will be a number of days. If we manage to handle the situation well, it should be by the end of this week.”

While the practicalities of fighting the unprecedented forest fire have received great attention, talk has also turned to future threats.

Petr Ošlejšek, deputy chief of the national fire service, told Czech Television on Monday that issues surrounding climate change were forcing his organisation to adapt.

Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

“I would say that this is a kind of first warning that we need to start doing some things differently… It has clearly been seen that without aircraft we are incapable of handling fires of this kind. We need machines that can deliver more water than the thousands of litres we currently use. We need to expand our fleet of planes. And at the same time we have learned to save water a bit.”

Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

With the Czech Republic frequently hit by drought in recent years, Mr. Ošlejšek said the fire service needed to use the water that is available more effectively.

Indeed water has been a major issue in dealing with this fire.

Special planes and helicopters needed water from the nearby Labe (Elbe) river, where levels were initially too low.

This led to a call on the river’s operators to open a dam, allowing for a crucial 20- to 30-centimetre rise in the level of the key waterway.

Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

Aleš Kendík, deputy minister for water management at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Czech Television that climate change was clearly present.

He said Czechia’s only source of water was rainfall so it was necessary not only to accumulate water in the land but also in reservoirs, to ensure it will be available for similar fires and other situations.