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Finnish fire officials battle large wildfire

Dry terrain and changing wind direction have made it difficult to put out the fire.

The fire has been burning since Monday afternoon as is said to be unusually large for Finland.

Firefighters in Muhos, northern Ostrobothnia say they have managed to contain a 250-hectare forest fire that began on Monday afternoon and raged into the early hours of Tuesday morning. However they say that it continues to burn within the containment area.

"A wide zone of hundreds of metres is still burning," said on-duty fire chief Heikki Levón of the Oulu-Koillismaa fire and rescue department.

He noted that there is still a risk that the blaze could spread.

"We are a bit afraid this morning that as the wind picks up it might spread again, but we are working very hard to prevent it. It has not by any means been put out," Levón added.

The fire chief pointed out that the forested area around the perimeter is still very dry and added that the fire was able to rapidly spread over the tinder-dry terrain because of strong winds that changed direction.

"Overnight rain did not really subdue the blaze," he said, noting that as the wind shifted the fire was already advancing beyond the containment boundary.

Unusually large fire for Finland

According to the Finnish Forest Centre, forest fires destroy between 300 and 800 hectares of land annually, with the largest blazes ranging from 50 to 100 hectares in size.

Levón said that the 250-hectare blaze in Muhos is extremely large by Finnish standards. The wildfire is just a few kilometres from a settlement and lies about 30 kilometres southeast of Oulu.

On Monday smoke from the wildfire blanketed Muhos but could also be detected in Oulu, 30 kilometres away. Muhos residents have been cautioned to remain indoors, to keep doors and windows shut and to turn off air circulation systems.

Fire officials said that the fire is also advancing in part because it is spreading from treetop to treetop.

"There are pine heaths that are allowing the fire to spread from treetops, as it did yesterday. The terrain in the burning area is variable," Levón said.

Story continues after photo

Forest fires destroy between 300 and 800 hectares of land every year in Finland. Image: Marko Väänänen / Yle

He added that some of the area on fire also includes mixed forests with different types of vegetation, partly bordered by fields. He said that it was difficult to rein in the fire because there are few roads in the area. In addition, there were no natural water reservoirs so they had to be built.

"It’s a difficult terrain with long distances and difficult to move in. It’s quite laborious to get water on site because we have to put down lines for several kilometres."

Fire departments from Oulu-Koillismaa, as well as Jokilaakso, Kainuu and Lapland responded to the fire and were assisted by the Defence Forces. By Tuesday morning there were some 60 officials on site.

Defence Force and Border Guard helicopters were also assisting with the operation.

"We are bringing in new people all the time to work so that others can get some rest," Levón said.