It is unusually dry in Europe, now the forests are on fire. Firefighters have been fighting fires in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium for days. But by far the largest forest fire has devastated the extreme north-east of Poland since Sunday. More than a tenth of the 59,000 hectares Biebrza National Park has already fallen victim to the flames.
On Thursday, the Interior Ministry gave a slight all-clear: the 220 firefighters, police officers, forestry workers and soldiers had stopped the spread, but the situation remains difficult to predict. The rescue workers work in difficult conditions in the poorly developed largest national park in the country. Rare species of birds, elk and beaver live there. It also includes the Biebrza Valley, one of the largest peat bogs in Europe. Experts fear that the fire will have a fatal impact on the development of flora and fauna in the current breeding and growing season.
“I don’t know what to call it”
Authorities accuse local farmers of illegally burning grass. “I don’t know what to call it. Stupidity? Irresponsibility? Carelessness?”, the park director Andrzej Grygoruk outraged towards the media. Especially in the northeast of the country, including in the Bialowieza jungle, the relationships between the national parks and the local population are often tense, as the latter perceive the protective measures as a restriction of their traditional way of life and as harassment. However, the accusation of willfulness is not raised.
The fires were favoured by the fact that Poland according to the national weather service experienced one of the worst droughts in the past hundred years.
This also affects agriculture, an economically and politically central sector that is now afraid of crop failures. With a special anti-drought law, the government wants to force investments in irrigation systems and sewers. Environmental protection organizations, on the other hand, fear that this will restrict their right to have a say. Together with the opposition, they criticize that very little is known about the law so far.
Fire at the wrong timeThe dispute over dealing with the drought and the forest fires comes at an unfavourable time for the government: it is already heavily absorbed by the fight against the coronavirus, which has also paralyzed Poland.
In addition, there is legal chaos and a political crisis within the coalition because the ruling party PiS wants to hold the presidential election of May 10, although broad circles hardly consider it feasible under the current conditions.