Heatwave threatens August 1st fireworks

While people all over Switzerland are enjoying a real summer for a change, the dry weather could put a damper on the country's national day festivities.

Heatwave threatens August 1st fireworks
Switzerland has enjoyed record temperatures this July and forests are drying out. File photo: AFP

Fireworks are as much a part of Swiss National Day celebrations as trestle tables, sausages and flapping red and white flags.

But the scorching summer could take the crackle and fizz out of this year's party. Six cantons have already rolled out fire bans in and around forests with dry weather increasing the risk of blazes flaring.

The restrictions — already in place in Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt, Solothurn, Vaud, Valais and Grissons — also means fireworks and fires in designated outdoor fireplaces are a no-no.  

On Tuesday Schaffhausen also recommended that people shouldn't light fires in the open, NZZ reports.

A map showing the fire risk in Swiss cantons: the brown areas have the highest risk.

Information on the Swiss government's environment ministry website shows the fire danger is elevated across central Switzerland and that the risk is “high” on the central plateau and in Grissons. Vallais and parts of the Jura, meanwhile, are becoming tinder dry.

Anyone hoping for rain will have to wait a while longer too, with the dry weather set to continue for the foreseeable future. Temperatures will climb as high as 35C in the coming days before a brief respite on the weekend.

Then it will be 'business as usual' next week as a new heatwave arrives.

And with two weeks to come before Switzerland gets into party mode, there is plenty of time for the forest floor to dry out even further. That could mean further bans on fires and fireworks out in the open.

Switzerland has enjoyed record temperatures this July. Average temperatures for the first two weeks off the month are already above those seen in the blisteringly hot summer of 2003 when the average maximum for July was a very un-Swiss 32.7C.

In 2014, Switzerland introduced new legislation meaning those working with the most powerful type of fireworks must take a week’s course costing 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,250) and pass the exam at the end to gain a 'B permit'.

For a simpler fireworks display, a day course at 500 francs to achieve an 'A permit' will suffice.











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Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland’s ‘birthday’

August 1st is a memorable day for Switzerland, as it celebrates the agreement which made the country as we know it possible. Here is what you need to know about the historical day and the celebrations.

Swiss National Day: Five things you should know about Switzerland's 'birthday'

There are few truly national events in Switzerland, a country marked by its strong federalism, with cantons with specific traditions, cultures, and languages. However, on August 1st, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day.

So, what is this celebration, and how do the Swiss mark it?

The Federal Charter of 1291

The date was chosen because the Federal Charter of 1291 was signed in “early August” when three cantons (Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwald) signed an oath to form an alliance – the document is now seen as central to the foundation of Switzerland and the reason why many call the Swiss National Day Switzerland’s “birthday”.

One holiday…four names

This being Switzerland, of course, the holiday has a name for each of the country’s official languages. So here is what the celebration is called depending on which canton you live in. German: Schweizer Bundesfeiertag; French: Fête nationale suisse; Italian: Festa nazionale svizzera; Romansh: Festa naziunala svizra.

READ ALSO: Where are fireworks banned on Swiss National Day and where are they permitted?

Different traditions for different regions

As we’ve said, the whole country gets together (but separately) to celebrate Swiss National Day. This means that, not unlike other celebrations and holidays, each canton, city and village will have their own traditions, sometimes quite different from one another.

Some are very famous, like the fireworks at the Rhine set off on the evening of July 31st in Basel. Or the celebration that takes place in Rütli meadow, the historic location just above Lake Lucerne, where the pledge of the alliance was signed.

READ ALSO: Ten brilliant ways to celebrate Swiss National Day

According to Switzerland Tourism: “A special kind of celebration takes place at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the waterfall has been illuminated on special occasions.”

“Since 1920, it has been illuminated regularly on August 1st, and since 1966 exclusively so. On the same day, a magnificent fireworks display also attracts throngs of spectators to this special site.”

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland celebrates its National Day with bonfires and brunch

The firework displays are also very famous in many cantons, though this year many were cancelled as the weather is dry and the risk of wildfires is high.

And although there could be fondue involved, the most typical is for the Swiss to enjoy a nice brunch or a barbecue with their friends and family.

It doesn’t stop people from making jokes, though.

The date has not been a holiday for long

Although the event that led to the celebrations happened hundreds of years ago, it took a long time for the Swiss to decide to celebrate it as a national holiday. At first, the Swiss Confederacy’s founding was celebrated in 1891; only eight years later did it start being celebrated yearly.

And only in 1994 did it become a national non-working holiday after Swiss voters massively approved a popular initiative for a “non-working federal holiday” on the date.

This year the celebrations were a bit different

Due to high temperatures and persisting drought, several cantons and municipalities have banned traditional fireworks on their territory, extending the ban to open fires.

Certain Zurich municipalities have also prohibited this practice, while further cantons indicated they might also ban fireworks should they be unsafe.

As such, private fireworks displays have been ruled out in many parts of the country and public celebrations are also affected.

Of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, some have issued total bans on open-air fires, some have issued bans covering parts of the canton, and some are only permitting fires at Feuerstelle (campfire-style open-air fire pits), and some have only banned fires in forest areas.

Still, the parties have been ongoing, with loads of different celebrations, music, parades, and many events for Switzerland’s birthday.