All five provinces of the Flemish region have issued a Code Orange for the danger of brush fires.
The alarm had already been raised in Antwerp and Limburg provinces, which have extensive areas of heath and grassland which are susceptible to fire. The other provinces – East and West Flanders and Flemish Brabant – have now followed suit.
“High temperatures, no precipitation and a moderate to strong east wind are expected in the coming days,” said Jeroen Denaeghel of the Agency for Nature and Forestry (ANB). “And that’s a dangerous cocktail for fire hazards.”
Code Orange is the second-highest state of alarm. Nature areas remain open, but both staff and visitors are asked to observe a number of additional precautions, he said.
“Code Orange means that you are still allowed in the nature reserves, but we ask that you definitely do not smoke or make a fire, and do not let children play unsupervised. Visitors must also be vigilant and signal anything suspicious, while we man the fire towers.”
The nature areas are only closed down in the event the alarm passes to Code Red.
“For the fourth consecutive year, Flanders is facing a severe drought. We are heading towards a water shortage,” said Matteo De Vos, expert in ecological agriculture at Greenpeace Belgium. “Will this shortage of water finally make our politicians understand that we are not taking global warming, the main cause of the increase in heat and drought, seriously? We hope so.”
The water shortage even found its way to the doorsteps of the wealthy suburban areas of Hoeilaart, Tervuren and Overijse, where the fire service distributed drinking water after taps dried up. The situation was later restored.
But more is to come, the ANB forecasts.
Denaeghel cannot yet say how long Code Orange will remain in force for the whole of Flanders. “That will depend on weather conditions. We evaluate the alarm phases from day to day. But when I look at the weather forecast, I think it will definitely take days.”