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Huge fire rages near alpine resort

Around 450 hectares of forest went up in smoke around Leuk. Keystone

The biggest single forest fire in Switzerland for three decades has forced emergency services to draft in the Swiss army to help battle the flames.

This content was published on August 14, 2003 - 14:02

Dry conditions and winds of around 45kmh fuelled the blaze near the spa resort of Leukerbad.

Some 125 soldiers were mobilised to help firefighters tackle the blaze which ravaged 450 hectares of forest in canton Valais.

Seven helicopters – including two army Superpumas - and more than 300 firefighters were drafted in to contain the fire, which cantonal police believe could have been ignited by a cigarette. One worker was admitted to hospital with slight injuries.

The blaze began on Wednesday evening and rapidly spread to an altitude of 2,000 metres. Shortly before midnight, hundreds of people living in the nearby towns of Leuk, Wyler and Albinen had to be evacuated.

They were able to return home late on Thursday even though the fire continued to burn in patches.

Wind and rain

Officials said adverse conditions had made their work more difficult.

The road from Leuk to Leukerbad was reopened on Thursday after geologists checked it for possible rockfalls.

Adding to officials’ concerns was the fact that the land around Leuk is very dry at the moment due to the current heatwave and the shortage of rain this year.

Rain was expected to fall, but local journalist Gabi Nanzer told swissinfo it would do little to help extinguish the blaze.

“The Valais is a very dry region and we’ve had such high temperatures over the past months that everything is very dry and so the situation is still alarming.”

Changing weather

The weather in Switzerland was expected to change later on Thursday, easing several months of hot and dry conditions. Nevertheless, the government warned that the danger of fires has not been this high in three decades.

Despite the fire near Leuk and a few other small fires across the country, the Swiss environment ministry said there had not been any more fires than usual.

It said this was largely thanks to the considerate behaviour of the Swiss and new legislation protecting forests.

Switzerland has been spared the massive fires which have scorched neighbouring France and other European countries.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

More than 400 firefighters battled to contain the blaze in southern Switzerland.

It was the biggest single fire for 30 years and officials were concerned that winds, as well as the hot and dry conditions, would fuel it further.

Hundreds of people were temporarily evacuated from their homes near the spa town of Leukerbad in canton Valais.

Switzerland has been spared the massive fires which have scorched neighbouring France and other European countries.

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