Hot weather causes forest fire fears in Valais

Authorities in the canton of Valais have issued a warning about having fireworks and bonfires on Swiss National Day, August 1st, after the hot weather sparked a number of brush fires.

Hot weather causes forest fire fears in Valais
Bonfires are traditionally lit to celebrate Swiss National Day. Photo: Marcus Gyger/Swiss Tourism

The recent spell of hot weather in the canton, with little rain, has led to a “marked risk” of wildfires in some areas of the Valais, cantonal authorities said in a statement.

“In the last few days there have unfortunately been several small brushfires,” it said, adding that forested and grassy areas “can catch fire quickly when very dry”.

The arrival of storms forecast in the following days also raises the chance of forest fires, it said.

People should take “great care” when using fireworks around the time of the country’s National Day celebrations this weekend and on Monday, said the authorities.

“Fires and fireworks will only be tolerated in areas designated and secured by the communes,” it said. “In every instance a fire should be watched and extinguished before being abandoned.”

Communes all over the country stage fireworks displays to celebrate Swiss National Day, while bonfires are traditionally lit on hilltops to commemorate a communication method dating back to the 14th century.

Last summer the canton and many others in Switzerland placed a ban on campfires, barbecues and fireworks in wooded areas due to an elevated risk of forest fires, which put a damper on National Day celebrations.

And the mild, dry Christmas period saw many parts of the country impose bans or restrictions on fireworks, causing several big New Year’s Eve fireworks displays to be cancelled.

There are currently no outright bans on fires in the Valais, though people are advised not to light barbecues outside designated areas.

According to Meteo Suisse, Switzerland should enjoy a hot and mainly sunny Saturday before storms hit on Sunday.

July has been characterized by hot, sunny weather and violent storms, with temperatures on average one degree higher than normal, it said.

Source: Meteo Suisse

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.