Can the area finally breathe better?
The smoke is slowly fading, getting better every day. When we arrived last week, it was really bad to breathe here. But as we get the various outbreaks under control, there is less and less smoke. It’s generally better during the day, as aircraft often stir up the smoke. But as the night approached, it mostly fell again, such an unpleasant blanket.
What is the biggest problem for firefighters in Hřensk?
The most complicated are rock gorges where water is difficult to reach. The fire is hidden in various crevices here and is generally difficult to see. Another thing is that the fire is buried quite deep in the soil, in the subsoil.
Firefighters have to pour everything, they pour maybe 3 thousand liters of water on 5 square meters. And in two hours this place is dry again and smoking again. Everything has to be properly dug up and demarcated.
How difficult is it to detect fire outbreaks in dug up soil?
If there is no thermal camera, which, although it is a great helper, is also not all-seeing, then there is nothing left but to dig up the given place at full speed and, if possible, build such a miniature cascade that is filled with water from the dug-up soil. Then we can only wait and see if the flames will rise again. Nothing else helps.
How long will it be necessary to monitor the entire area to see if any hidden fire has started to burn again?
I dare not guess, I am an ordinary fireman. We all have a different estimate on that. I think it will be about a week, someone else would guess three days, someone more. I dare not predict anything.
Could you describe how challenging this intervention is?
It is the largest intervention in a forest fire that has ever occurred in the Czech Republic. The weather, even though it rained for a while, complicates everything – especially in such a difficult terrain.
Hoses had to be pulled into the rocks due to poor traffic accessibility. We were helped a lot by four-wheelers and a tracked horse. ATVs are priceless on the spot, and there are really a lot of them here. If they weren’t here, the whole intervention would have taken much longer. Of course, we had to get the fire extinguishers manually where we couldn’t get there with technology.
How often is it necessary to rest? After what time do the units change?
It rests on the spot by extinguishing itself for a while, spilling the soil, then there is a pause, or a pause is made when food is brought in. Then it continues again.
If there is no danger of the fire burning with flame and spreading, then pauses are simply taken. To drink, they rested a bit. When there are more people, it is possible to take turns on the currents used to extinguish the fire. Maybe after thirty minutes. This is where we need to help each other as much as possible.
Intervening fire units alternate after 4 to 5 days. For example, our unit from Cheb arrived on Thursday afternoon and we left on Monday after lunch.
Is the intervention also challenging in terms of psychological aspects?
When we arrived in the field, we were deployed more for finishing work. We did not fully experience the initial spread of the fire. We did not defend Mezna like, for example, our colleagues. It must have been even harder for them because they must have felt that if they failed, the place would burn down.
It felt like no man’s land to me personally. Black everywhere. It was a sad sight to see something like this happen to our national park and on such a large scale. Feelings at the site were mixed. On the one hand, one thinks that nature will deal with such a disaster, in the end it may even be beneficial for it, but on the other hand, it is clear that it will take a very long time.
How far did you walk in full gear every day?
It depends on the area in which we were deployed. On Thursday, we pulled the traffic line to Pravčická brána, so we walked about 13 kilometers with all the equipment. When you are deployed in one place, it is logically less. But some guys had even twenty kilometers, I heard. Anyway, we all come and stretch enough.
From the perspective of the firefighter’s body, what gets the most work during an intervention?
The most stressed are the legs and hands.
How do you feel about people who, despite the ban, drive into the fire area and bypass the police barriers? What do you think about people who are able to start a fire here and then not even put it out?
I would very much hate to be rude, so I will not comment on this, because it would not be nice words. Anyway, these people should be fined in the tens of thousands, not, say, 2,000.
If something like this is happening, like the current fire, there is a ban on burning and starting fires, so I think it is completely indisputable. High fines could at least have some chance of impressing these people so that they might at least reconsider similar activities in the future.
What kind of help do you get from the locals? Is there accommodation or a place to rest for firefighters in areas that are not in immediate danger? Do people bring you food?
Local help is amazing. We had two centers where provisions were collected. One of them was the volunteer fire station Hřensko, from where the things that people brought to us were taken to the marshalling yard near us, specifically to the village of Mezní Louka.
When I saw how much there was, I was surprised: it was really a lot. Protein bars, energy drinks, pure water, non-perishable foods. And thank God for it, because supplying such a mass of firefighters is not easy. It was unreal.