A heat wave across much of Europe has been exacerbating wildfires in multiple nations in recent weeks, most notably, in Greece and Sweden. Efforts to put down these fires have quickly developed into an international endeavor, with equipment and firefighting personnel from a laundry list of nations heading into the fray.
In Sweden, where more than 50 wildfires continue to rage across the nation, one has drawn the particular concern of officials — burning in the forest in Älvdalen (central Sweden) this growing wildfire has been consuming terrain that’s difficult to access, but now, it’s rapidly approaching a disused military firing range littered with unexploded ordnance that would make any attempt to combat the fires from the ground too dangerous to consider.
Of course, there’s a variety of firefighting tactics that can be employed from the sky — here in the United States, for instance, a variety of tanker aircraft are used by the U.S. Forest Service to drop hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water or fire retardant spray over raging forest fires. Sweden, however, had a different idea: they’re putting the fire out by beating it into submission. Sweden just began testing the use of laser-guided bombs, dropped from fighter jets, as a means to quell the spread of the flames.
Okay, so technically, they’re not really beating the fires with the bombs — the real intent is to suffocate them. When the bombs detonate near raging fires, they burn an immense amount of oxygen in the area, effectively removing one of the primary fuel sources a wildfire needs to keep burning. In effect, these 500-pound bombs have a similar effect on the wildfires as you have on a candle when you blow it out. The immense force produced by the explosion doesn’t just eliminate nearby oxygen, but it also literally blows the flames off of their fuel sources (often wood or other organic matter in the forest), preventing reignition when air rapidly refills the void left by the detonation.
Their first test of this method was carried out on Wednesday and saw the laser and GPS guided 500 pounds GBU-49 dropped from a Gripen multi-role combat fighter. Another Gripen flying alongside captured the drop with an onboard camera.
“We have extinguished fires up to 100 meters away with very good effect. We also see that the fires that are still further away are not adversely affected, thus no increased intensity on them.” Sweden’s Rescue leader Johan Szymanski told journalists after the bombing run. “The conclusion is that as long as there is a fire on a shooting field, it’s a tool in the toolbox to release bombs.”
While the bombing effort has proven effective, it’s unlikely that we’ll see it employed in areas that aren’t already littered with explosives. As a rule, bombs tend to do plenty of damage themselves, making their use as a firefighting tool limited — however, it’s not all that different than a common firefighting technique that’s often referred to as “back burning.” This method involves using controlled burns to eliminate fuel sources for spreading fires on the approach, effectively creating a barrier that prevents the fire from expanding further. While dropping bombs from a fighter jet 3,000 feet overhead may not be quite the same thing — an old military axiom seems to hold true in these circumstances: if it works, it’s not stupid.
Watch the Gripen bombing run over Sweden’s wildfires in the video below:
Feature image courtesy of YouTube.