GB No. 8, summer 1992
The spring and summer of 1992 were particularly hot and dry. Under such conditions, the humidity of the duff dropped at some locations below 5 per cent, while even a humidity level of 20 per cent or less poses a serious threat of forest fire. The period between 1 and 27 August, 1992, alone brought over 13,000 fires in Poland, which destroyed about 25,000 hectares of forest. In the previous five years, the number of fires in August had averaged just 4,700.
The greatest fire broke out on 26 August, 1992, at about 1:45 PM, in the forest area of ca. 15,000 hectares near the village of Kuźnia Raciborska. Despite the firemen's all-out efforts, the fire kept spreading until 1 September, 1992, when it was checked by a rather heavy shower. It was, however, only several days later that the fire was finally stamped out.
The fire might have started through human carelessness (e.g. a cigarette stub thrown out of a window of a passing train), but the possibility of arson has not been excluded. It raged on an area of ca. 10,000 hectares, out of which 9,060 hectares of forest were destroyed. It spread chiefly through the tree tops and through the brushwood. The temperature of up to 900 degrees Celsius generated a pressure differential which ejected burning cones within a range of several hundred meters. One could smell the smoke in many towns of Upper Silesia.
Fighting the fire were approximately 12,500 firemen, policemen, soldiers, foresters, and volunteers from civil defense formations. They had at their disposal about 750 fire engines, 24 "Dromader" type aircraft, 8 helicopters, 12 tanks, and a lot of other equipment. The operation was hampered by strong wind, the drought, lack of routes of approach and of an adequate water supply.
In view of the fire threat and heavy air contamination, women and children were evacuated from the villages of Goszyce, Łączna, and Kotlarnia, while the villages of Stara Kuźnia and Twaróg Mały were ready for evacuation. The conflagration threatened to spread to the chemical plant in Blachownia Śląska, which would have had most dreadful consequences. Accordingly, a considerable task force with 50 fire engines was used to protect the plant.
The authorities took a vivid interest in the rescue operation. On Thursday, 27 August, 1992, Kuźnia Raciborska was visited by the ex-Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, who is the President of the Voluntary Fire Brigade Association. On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Henryk Goryszewski arrived at the site, and on Monday came President Lech Wałęsa, who donated 500 million zlotys to pay for the current expenses of the fire fighters. At the height of the fire, the command of the operation was taken over by Brigadier Feliks Dela, commander in chief of the Polish Fire Brigades.
Two firemen laid down their lives during the operation, Sergeant Andrzej Kaczyna, a squad leader from Racibórz, and Andrzej Malinowski, member of the Voluntary Fire Brigade from Kłodnica. Both were posthumously awarded the Polonia Restituta cross - one of the highest-ranking orders in Poland. The third victim was a 23-year-old woman killed in a road accident in Rudy Raciborskie. Besides, several people suffered injuries, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning. High tribute must be paid to the fire fighters' courage, which allowed to localize the fire and reduce the losses.
Four fire engines were destroyed by fire in the course of the operation and several more were damaged. Besides, an immense quantity of fuel, extinguishing agents, and equipment was consumed. The total cost of the operation was approximately 46,000 million zlotys.
The fire near Kuźnia Raciborska has destroyed a considerable part of the wooded area to the south-west of the town of Gliwice, which provided a barrier protecting the industrialized regions of Upper Silesia from air pollution (SO2, NO2, industrial dust) coming from Czecho-Slovakia. Now an increased concentration of these substances in the air is to be expected in the region to the north and east of the destroyed forest area. The cost of the re-introduction of the forest is estimated at 500,000 million zlotys. If such an investment is made, there is a chance that several dozen years from now, the forest barrier will assume its function again. Broadleaf or mixed forest is to be recommended, in preference to coniferous, owing to its greater resistance to acid rain and fires.
M.Tech. Institute of General
and Ecological Chemistry
Technical University of Łódź
transl. by Sigullum Ltd.