Sweden has issued calls for emergency assistance from the European Union after wildfires broke out across the country during an extreme heatwave. Dozens of forest fires have swept the Nordic region, including in parts of the Arctic circle, prompting Stockholm to seek intervention from its neighbours to control the spread.  Tens of thousands of people have been urged to stay indoors with windows and vents shut to avoid smoke inhalation.

The country’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) said two Italian firefighting planes had been sent to central Sweden and Norway dispatched six helicopters. But on Wednesday, authorities requested further assistance as close to 40 fires continued to rage across the region, according to local media. 

The wildfires are the worst the country has seen in 12 years, rescue officer Thomas Andersson told AFP. No casualties have been reported so far but the country remains “at very high risk of forest fire,” according to the European Commission.   “The European Union stands in full solidarity with Sweden. Our thoughts are with all the people affected and also with first responders and the firefighters working to tackle the fires. I thank Italy for its immediate offer of two planes. This is solidarity in a Europe that protects” said commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management Christos Stylianides.

“The drought has led to a large amount of simultaneous fires in the forests and land,” state emergency services operator SOS Alarm said in a statement. A map produced by the company showed 44 wildfires burning at 3pm on Wednesday, central European time. 

The call for help comes just days after Sweden’s national weather agency, the SMHI, issued a class-two alert for “extremely high temperatures”.

Sweden and its Nordic neighbours have experienced an unprecedented heatwave in recent days, and with temperatures forecast to remain above 30C the risk of more fires remains high.

Central parts of the country, including Örebro, Västmanland, Södermanland, Uppsala and Stockholm, are among some of the worst hit areas, with fires raging in bone dry forests. 

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