Heat wave beckons sunbathers, sparks forest fires

  • 2006-07-12
  • By Joel Alas

SUMMER LIVING: The Baltic coast was packed with people over the weekend as temperatures hovered above 30 degrees Celsius.

TALLINN - Sun lovers revel, cities swelter and fires blaze as all three Baltic states sweat through the hottest days of the year. Temperatures reached 35 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of central Estonia, while Riga set a record temperature for July when the mercury hit 33.1 degrees Celsius over the weekend.

Beaches across the Baltics are packed as sunbathers make the most of the weather, while urban scenes are full of hedonists displaying their holiday tans. After one of the coldest winters on record, Balts are lapping up the rays.
However, the heat has brought tragic consequences with it as well. Eleven people drowned last month in Latvia, and the number is growing. Authorities in Lithuania have also reported a spate of drownings over that country's four-day holiday weekend, with 12 people dead.

The main problem, rescuers have said, is that in a haste to escape the sweltering heat, many people ignore swim-zone regulations and safety precautions. Officials have warned parents to keep an eye on their children, especially when swimming in the ocean.
The dry conditions have also sparked a large number of forest fires. In Estonia, the situation has been declared critical. Soldiers and a border guard helicopter were summoned to assist about 60 firefighters who were battling blazes in the nation's north-east regions.

The Estonian Rescue Board pleaded with citizens to keep out of the forests if possible and to avoid tossing their cigarette butts out of car windows or into forest areas.
"Even the smallest spark, such as from a burning cigarette butt, could cause a new fire in the forests," a Rescue Board spokesman said.

Latvia's Crisis Management Council has called voluntary firefighters into action, and Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis organized a special meeting to discuss solutions to the problem.
Although Kalvitis has not yet declared a state of emergency, the State Forest Service's fire prevention director, Ansis Gertners, said such measures may be necessary if the dry conditions prevail.

But officials are quivering at the thought: With Latvia's fire service facing a debt of some 64,000 euros, authorities may be forced to call in voluntary firefighters if the situation gets worse.
Lithuanian authorities were also concerned about the large number of forest fires, with almost 800 small blazes reported in recent weeks.

In Tallinn, ambulance services were called to the aid of a number of elderly people and children.
Raul Adlas, head of emergency services in Tallinn, said people consuming alcohol in the sun were also among those adversely affected by the heat.
"The typical people affected are older people, young people who party and drink too much, and young children in summer camps," Adlas said.

"Parents sometimes leave children in their cars in the hot weather during festivals, or when they go to the supermarket to buy beer. They return to see the child is sick, and we have to hospitalize these children," he said.
He said ambulance crews were called to a number of such incidences, including several at Ollesummer, Tallinn's five-day beer and music festival held last week.

But most of the people treated for heat-affected conditions, Adlas added, were not in serious condition. The majority only needed to drink water or take a cold shower.
On a lighter note, the scorching summer has sent Estonians running for the ice-cream stalls.
Estonian ice-cream manufacturer Balbiino reported a massive spike in sales, reaching more than 1.5 million kroons (100,000 euros) in factory prices.

The company said it expected its all-time highest sales to be recorded during July, and has promised to keep its factory running 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand.
"Compared with last June we increased ice-cream sales by 17 percent, and July sales figures are 27 percent higher than those of June at the moment," Balbiino marketing director Teet Anier told the Baltic News Service. "We hope to achieve more than 40 million kroons in sales in July, which would be a new all-time high."

While the heat is unusual for most Baltic residents, it is far from extreme.
Adlas put the situation in perspective: "It's not Africa. This temperature is not dangerous for most people. It's only a heat wave for 10 's 20 days of the year."