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.

Research Underway to Utilize Controversial Alaskan Lupine

A team of researchers at the University of Iceland is looking into the possibility of using Alaskan lupine for human consumption. The lupine’s presence in Iceland has divided opinion since it first arrived. The plant was originally planted around the middle of the 20th century to revegetate barren areas. The controversial lupine has spread all around the land since the 90s.

Where some see a problem, others see an opportunity. Such is the case with Braga Stefaný Mileris, Axel Sigurðsson, and Björn Viðar Albjörnsson, Ph.D. students in nutrition at the University of Iceland. “I think it’s fair to say that the lupine is the most political plant of the country, but the population splits into two factions when it comes to opinions on it. We’re now researching how we can utilize the plant,” he said in an interview with Vísir. The nutritious qualities of the lupine have not been researched extensively. “It’s an underutilized plant which grows all around Iceland, a setting and a climate where it’s not easy to grow things. So it creates value to find clever ways to utilize it, no matter for what,” said Braga.

They are looking into ways to make a drink out the lupine, both for human consumption as well as looking into using it for animal fodder. “Abroad, such as in Spain, lupine beans are easily reached in supermarkets. They’re stored in water just like other beans, and used in the same way. You can eat them as a stand-alone snack, make hummus or add them to bean dishes,” Braga says. The plant is naturally bitter, so the bitter agents need to be separated from the product. Measurements of the biological agents are currently underway and could open up the door for further research.

“Biological agents have health-improving effects, and there are a lot of biological agents in lupine found in Iceland. So, there are a lot of possibilities to possibly use it for drugs or active food products, which are foodstuffs with health-improving properties,” Braga said.

Dividing opinions

The Alaskan lupine becomes dominant where it manages to set foot. It was originally introduced by the Iceland Forest Service to combat barren landscapes and soil erosion. But plants that were already in place might be replaced in areas which the lupine spreads to. The plant spreads around at a rapid rate as the lifetime of its seeds is quite long. They spread with the wind in large stretches of barren land and are found in large spreads. Grass species that can well handle a lot of shade are often found in abundance along with the lupine. The ground can become more fertile and allow species to increase in numbers, compared to the situation beforehand. Many believe the colorful, purple plant lands an extra touch to the landscape. In parts of the country, measurements have been taken to reduce the spread of the lupine.

Red areas show the spread of lupine in 2016. Photo: Icelandic Institute of Natural History

Bolungarvík to Use Piglets for Weed Control

The village of Bolungarvík in Northwest Iceland welcomed its two newest residents last night: a pair of piglets. Vísir reports that the animals have been brought in with the hopes that they will help to root out the glut of wild chervil that has been plaguing the local environment. This is an experimental project that the town has embarked on in collaboration with the Westfjords Nature Research Centre.

Using pigs to control unwanted vegetation is a time-honoured method that farmers used to regularly use and that researchers are starting to appreciate as well. The idea, per a 2015 article in Science Daily, is to let the animals “…do what they do naturally: dig up the roots of weeds and fertilise the land.”

The Bolungarvík piglets are ten weeks old. The village is currently holding a competition in which residents can suggest names for them.