Dry Weather Provides Conditions For New Year Brushfires

Ever since the 18th century, Icelanders have had a tradition of “burning away the old year” with bonfires, and later fireworks. This year, authorities didn’t permit bonfires due to COVID-19 but a snowless ground paired with dry, heavy winds provided the perfect conditions for brush fires in south and west Iceland over the first few days of the year. New Year’s fireworks and illegal bonfires exacerbated the problem, but in Mosfellsbær, a group of teenage boys helped save homes from burning down.

Brush fires were burning in various locations in the capital area on New Year’s Eve and the days following. Dry grass made kindling for most fires, but garbage containers and roofs also caught fire. All available firefighters responded to calls over fires on New Year’s Eve, and search-and-rescue teams were mobilised to help. On New Year’s Eve, 90 fires were reported to the capital area firefighters.

In Árnessýsla in south Iceland, the fire department fought 54 fires and got additional reports from locals who managed to extinguish some fires on their own. The deputy fire chief in Árnessýsla Lárus Kristinn Guðmundsson told RÚV that the fires left large areas burnt after New Year’s Eve. Even though authorities permitted no bonfires this New Year’s Eve, sparks from fireworks and illegal bonfires lit most of the flames. A snow-free ground and heavy dry winds provided perfect conditions for the fire to spread.

A residential building in Mosfellsbær was close to catching fire on New Year’s Day when a brush fire broke out in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. Kids in the area noticed the fire and notified people closest to it. Using every tactic, they managed to extinguish the fire, but it was only two metres from a house when their efforts were finally successful.

Once the fire department arrived, the fire was mostly out. According to a resident in the house threatened by fire, some teenage boys were instrumental in extinguishing the fire. “They sort of rescued us. There were so many of them, and they were so quick, running around with shovels, blankets, and buckets. I think that was the most important part, how quick they were to run around with water and everything.”

In addition to the fires, seven people sought help at the National Hospital’s emergency room with fireworks-related injuries on their hands. Senior physician at the Emergency Room Hjalti Már Björnsson, noted that all seven cases included grown men, not children or teenagers. He told RÚV that there hadn’t been a notable increase in emergency room arrivals due to intoxication or assaults. “There were some but not noticeably more than usual.”

Wildfire Alert Phase Spreads to Southeast Iceland

brunasvæði sinubruni brush fire

A wildfire alert phase is now in effect across roughly half of Iceland following weeks of dry weather and fires across the Southwest quadrant of the country. The region of Austur-Skaftafellssýsla in Southeast Iceland has been added to the alert phase, which is also in effect across Southwest and West Iceland, the Westfjords, the northwest region, and the Reykjavík capital area. An uncertainty phase is in effect on the Suðurnes peninsula.

All handling of open fire is banned in the areas where an alert phase in effect, where precipitation has been rare in recent weeks and not much is in the forecast. “It has probably never been more important to be especially careful with fire in areas with vegetation and to avoid the use of barbecues and tools that heat up with use,” a notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states.

Almannavarnir. An alert phase is in effect in the dark yellow regions and an uncertainty phase in the light yellow region.

Homeowners are encouraged to review their fire preparedness, as “every second can make a difference.” Anyone who witnesses a wildfire should immediately call the emergency line 112. Witnesses can often put out fires in the early stages with the help of garden hoses or buckets of water.

The public (particularly owners of summer houses in the affected region) are encouraged to:

  • Not light fires inside or outside (including fireplaces, grills, bonfires, fireworks, etc.)
  • Not use disposable or ordinary barbecues
  • Check exits by summer houses
  • Review fire protection (fire extinguishers, smoke detectors) and make an escape plan
  • Not use tools that become very hot or cause sparks
  • Remove flammable material near buildings (check the location of gas containers)
  • Wet the vegetation around buildings where it is dry

Iceland Declares First-Ever Alert Phase Due to Wildfire Risk

forest brush fire

Icelandic authorities have declared an alert phase in the southwest quadrant of the country due to the risk of wildfires. The handling of open fire has been prohibited. It is the first time such a high level of risk has been declared in the country due to wildfires. The alert phase applies to all of South and West Iceland, from Breiðafjörður to Eyjafjöll, where weather has been dry for weeks and little precipitation is in the forecast. Wildfires have broken out in the region daily this week.

“A civil protection alert phase is put in place if people’s health and safety are at risk, environment or population is threatened by nature or people, however not serious to the point of an emergency situation,” a notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states. “An alert phase is a part of the procedures in the civil protection structure to ensure formal communication and information between responders and the public.”

Read More: Brush Fires Break Out in Bone Dry Capital Area

Handling of Open Fire Prohibited

Along with the alert phase, fire department chiefs in the region have prohibited the handling of open fire as even a small spark carries great risk of wildfire when vegetation is dry. The prohibition has already taken effect and breaches are subject to fines. The public (particularly owners of summer houses in the affected region) are encouraged to:

  • Not light fires inside or outside (including fireplaces, grills, bonfires, fireworks, etc.)
  • Not use disposable or ordinary barbecues
  • Check exits by summer houses
  • Review fire protection (fire extinguishers, smoke detectors) and make an escape plan
  • Not use tools that become very hot or cause sparks
  • Remove flammable material near buildings (check the location of gas containers)
  • Wet the vegetation around buildings where it is dry

Anyone who notices a wildfire must call the emergency line 112 immediately.

Brush Fires Break Out in Bone Dry Capital Area

brunasvæði sinubruni brush fire

Firefighters put out brush fires in Hafnarfjörður and Reykjavík yesterday, while police responded to several other reports of open flames kindled outdoors. Another fire occurred this afternoon in Kópavogur. Weather has been unseasonably dry in Iceland’s capital area in recent weeks and in other parts of the country. An uncertainty phase is in effect across South Iceland, West Iceland, and the Reykjavík capital area due to risk of forest and brush fires.

A brush fire broke out on Laugarnestangi in Reykjavík shortly before midnight last night. RÚV reports that one truck was sent to the scene and it did not take long to put the fire out. Another brush fire broke out in Hafnarfjörður between 2.00pm and 3.00pm yesterday, and took firefighting crews  around an hour to put out. The fire covered an area of around 600 square metres. Firefighters did not get a rest today, as another fire broke out in Guðmundarlundur grove in Kópavogur this afternoon. The fire is now under control.

Authorities Ask Public to Grill With Caution

South and West Iceland have received little precipitation in recent weeks, with mostly dry, sunny weather across the regions. Police declared an uncertainty phase in the regions after a forest fire scorched two square kilometres of Heiðmörk forest. No rain is in the forecast for the coming days. The Civil Protection Department has set up automatic text messaging to all those who enter South Iceland, warning of the risk of brush fires.

Authorities implore the public to avoid using disposable grills, as they carry a high risk of starting fires in surrounding vegetation. For those grilling on patios and at cabins, authorities recommend having buckets of water and fire extinguishers at hand, as well as wetting the surrounding vegetation with a garden hose before barbecuing. The public is asked to avoid lighting open fires.

“Uncertainty Phase” Declared Due to Risk of Forest Fires in South and West Iceland

heiðmörk fire 4 may 2021

The National Police Commissioner has declared an “uncertainty phase” due to risk of forest fires in South Iceland, West Iceland, and the Reykjavík capital area. The area stretches between Eyjafjöll to the south side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. A forest fire burned two square kilometres in Heiðmörk forest on May 4.

A notice from the Civil Protection Department stated that the three regions have been unseasonably dry in recent weeks and there is little precipitation in the forecast for the coming days, increasing the risk of brush or forest fires. At this stage, the department and stakeholders will begin the collaboration and coordination to increase monitoring, assessment, and research related to the risk.

The public is asked to be careful with open fires in the regions and other places where vegetation is dry. “It doesn’t take a lot of sparks to lead to a big blaze,” the notice states. Anyone who spots a brush or forest fire should call emergency line 112.

Heiðmörk Forest Fire Burns Two Square Kilometres

heiðmörk fire 4 may 2021

A brush fire has burned two square kilometres of Heiðmörk forest in the Reykjavík capital area, RÚV reports. The fire broke out between three and four yesterday afternoon and took firefighters nearly twelve hours to put out. The fire was difficult for fire crews to access as it was far from roads.

Sævar Hreiðarsson, a forest warden in Heiðmörk, stated that wardens had been through the area just before the fire broke out. “It’s just sad that our staff didn’t see this. They were there just half an hour, an hour before this happened,” he stated.

The planting of Heiðmörk began in the early 1950s and the forest celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. The area where the fire took place was planted around 20 years ago. Heiðmörk is a popular recreational area for residents of the capital area. “And unfortunately some are using disposable barbecues or are smoking and not being careful,” Sævar told reporters. “Now everything is very dry and ignites easily, there’s a lot of food for the fire now.”

The area has been monitored specifically due to the risk of forest fire in recent years. “But it’s such a big area and it’s difficult for us to monitor, and this happens very suddenly. We have managed to stop fires like this as they break out. The fire crews managed to help us with something two years ago. There were small fires then but thankfully not like this just now.”

Brush Fire Burns 15 Hectares in West Iceland

brush fire May 2020

Around 15 hectares burned in a brush fire that began last night in Norðurárdalur valley, West Iceland, RÚV reports. Over 100 firefighters and search and rescue volunteers worked through the night to fight the flames, putting out the final embers around 6.00am this morning.

Firefighters in Borgarbyggð municipality received notice of the brush fire around 6.00pm yesterday evening. The flames later spread to moss and brush in a lava field, terrain difficult for firefighters to access, particularly with vehicles.

Search and rescue teams used a drone equipped with a thermal camera to map where the flames were strongest. Heiðar Örn Jónsson, Assistant Fire Chief in Borgarbyggð thanked area residents who brought food and drink to firefighters as they worked through the night.

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