What the fire in Czech Switzerland showed us
At the turn of august and july, a great tragedy befell us – a fire in Bohemian Switzerland. Dozens of people had to be evacuated, rescue services were injured and the damage to the tourism industry alone is estimated at czk 5 billion. What is more, we have irretrievably lost a part of our history. What is behind this, why did it happen at all? The cause, albeit with circumstantial evidence, has been found.
There has been a fire in Bohemian Switzerland in the past, namely on 31 august 1842 – today it will be 180 years. At that time, the fire was started by an unknown arsonist, and in today’s terms, 185 hectares of forest burned, 90 hectares of which were on czech territory.
The beginning of the fire
The fire of the summer of 2022 destroyed 1200 hectares of the national park and lasted a total of 20 days. It was extinguished during a severe drought. It all started on 23 july 2022, a sunday, at 7am during a major heatwave. The administration of the Bohemian Switzerland national park received a report from the saxon guard on the german side of the territory regarding “a thick column of smoke rising from the forest.” The volunteer fire brigade immediately checked the information and found the location of the fire in the area of the Malinový důl.
The course of the fire
Subsequently, dozens of tourists, residents from the adjacent villages of Mezná and Vysoká lípa and 60 people from the camp in Dolský mlýn were evacuated. 83 units of firefighters, 4 helicopters, 2 aircraft and 410 people including firefighters from Germany arrived for the intervention. Shortly afterwards, the fire spread to german territory, the area of Rear Saxon Switzerland, first to the vicinity of the Großer Winterberg mountain, where the firefighters had to return on 24 july. On tuesday, the fire on german territory covered an area of more than 250 hectares.
Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, the fire ravaged the village of Mezná. By Tuesday evening, the fire had spread to 1000 ha. A total of 450 firefighters, more than half of them volunteers, intervened. The smoke reached as far as the surrounding areas of Dresden, Liberec, Svitavsko, Orlice-Ústecko and Vysočina.
On wednesday, other inhabited areas were evacuated – the settlement of Mezní Louka and the village of Janova. The Hřensko border crossing was closed, as well as shipping traffic to Dolní Žleb due to the need to pump water. Furthermore, a no-fly zone was declared. Seven helicopters, planes and a large number of firefighters were at full strength trying to tame the unceasing fire element. A day later on saturday, 8 injuries were reported among the firefighters who sacrificed themselves to help Bohemian Switzerland.
In total, 6000 firefighters, 400 pieces of equipment were involved in fighting the fire. Significant help also came from the military and volunteers who also provided food. Last but not least, special aircraft from Slovakia and Austria helped.
On the german side, the fire was fought in two areas between Großer Winterstein and the Großer Zschand valley. In addition, the eastern air current extended the fire to the river Krinitz. 275 rescue units, 9 helicopters worked. Organizations such as the German red cross and the Technisches Hilfswerk also pitched in to help. In the second week of extinguishing, firefighters on the german side managed to reduce the range of the flames to 150 hectares according to satellite images.
The fire was extinguished
Twenty days later, on Friday 12 august 2022, the firefighters finally won over the fire and the administration was able to take control of the area. A day later, on Saturday, the last firefighting units left, with 110 firefighters still remaining on site in case there were hidden outbreaks of fire that could still pose a danger.
Restrictions on entry
The firefighters’ capacity was significantly reduced after this response event. The administration then had to recruit volunteer firefighters for weeks in advance, even though many of them were struggling to find relief in their main jobs. The most problematic sections were considered to be the area near the Pravčická gate and the Bouřňák, where the flames spread through the root system of the trees there. At the same time, the ministry of the environment extended the restrictions on entering the national park and the order of no entry at night. But not all tourists have respected the regulation.
Respecting the rules with lighting fires – this is most likely where this whole tragedy stems from. Lack of fire safety prevention caused local people to have their property burnt or to be seriously endangered by fire. Many of them had to stay away from their homes and firefighters put their lives and health on the line. So let’s be careful about prevention.