Massive wildfires have ravaged Poland”s largest nature reserve, the Biebrza National Park, as the country faces its worst drought in years.
After the first flames struck Sunday, the blaze spread across 6,000 hectares or 10 per cent of the park, which features some of Europe”s best preserved wetlands and is home to moose, beavers, wolves and unique birds.
“It”s a great tragedy… Usually at this time of year, everything here is under water. I spoke to a firefighter who said they”ve never dealt with anything like this before,” local resident Joanna Skrzypkowska told AFP.
“They”re fighting really hard… they didn”t sleep for three nights, just battled the fires, before help arrived,” said the 56-year-old teacher, ecologist and farmer from the village of Wolka Piaseczna.
The environment ministry said it believes illegal grass burning was to blame for the fire, with the situation aggravated by strong wind and drought.
Skrzypkowska said climate change, a snowless winter and local water management also played a role in the fire, which she says has fortunately not spread to the forests and has abated somewhat. She added that since Wednesday the local firefighters — who ran to the blaze on foot with shovels — have been bolstered by colleagues from nearby cities as well as planes and helicopters.
President Andrzej Duda spoke of the drought Wednesday, calling on citizens to be reasonable about their water use and telling reporters: “Without rain, we could be in danger.”