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An unusually dry summer has touched off dozens of forest fires across Sweden, including in a number of hard to reach and potentially dangerous areas. The fire around a military training range has been burning for two weeks already, threatening nearby communities and forcing evacuations.
To try and halt the spread of one blaze in and around the military shooting range in the municipality of Älvdalen, Swedish emergency management authorities used an original method – air bombing the fire.
A JAS 39C Gripen fighter jet from the Swedish Air Force’s F 17 wing dropped a single 500-pound class GBU-49/B Paveway precision-guided bomb on a part of the burning forest, in attempt to remove the oxygen from the fire. The fire response authorities said their view was that the unique fire necessitated the use of unconventional extinguishing methods.
The most immediate problem is that the range is potentially littered with unexploded ordnance, posing a hazard to firefighters on the ground. The danger is not just that individuals fighting the blaze might stumble across something and get injured, but that the intense heat from the fire might just set off any leftover shells or bombs. Swedish authorities halted the firefighting for a period, based on these concerns.
As water bombing aircraft and helicopters had little impact on the conflagration, another solution was required.
The GBU-49/B, a dual-mode weapon with laser- and GPS-assisted Inertial Navigation System (INS) guidance systems, would have allowed the Swedish Air Force to focus their attention on a very specific point. The weapon’s effects were also limited enough to avoid creating any additional fires.
The basic idea of suffocating a blaze with a large blast is hardly unheard of, and specialized personnel who fight oil well fires also use explosives in certain cases to extinguish the flames’ according to thedrive.com. In those cases, firefighters lower the improvised bombs into position using a crane or other piece of machinery, rather than dropping them from a plane, though.
It’s not the first time the Swedish military has employed actual weaponry to put out fires at this particular range, either. According to an official statement from the country’s Armed Forces, troops have used artillery fire to suffocate blazes in the past.