Swiss Army Extends Monitoring of Valais Forest Fire to August 8, 2023

Julia Schneemann | FireFire
A helicopter flying over the affected area in Bitsch, Switzerland. | Picture: Wild-CH Instagram

The Swiss Army has extended its commitment to help with the forest fire near the Aletsch glacier in the Swiss canton of Valais/Wallis to August 8, 2023. A forest fire had broken out on Monday, July 17, 2023, near the municipality of Bitsch, and summer winds fanned the fire up the entire mountain and into the neighboring region Riederalp, destroying more than 110 hectares (> 270 acres) of native forest.

While the fire is currently deemed to be under control, there are hundreds of ember pockets that could still spontaneously reignite at any moment. Therefore, the canton of Valais/Wallis requested for an extension of the emergency support by the Swiss Army. The army will monitor the pockets of ember by means of an infrared camera mounted to a Super Puma helicopter as well as two special road vehicles with heat cameras. Initially the army was supposed to leave on July 28, 2023, but dry, hot weather meant that the situation in Bitsch stayed precarious for longer than anticipated.
Dramatic scenes from Bitsch, Switzerland. | Picture: Wild-CH Instagram

Several mountain villages had to be evacuated as fires got out off control but residents were allowed to return temporarily. The Swiss Federal government declared a no-fly-zone over the area for recreational flights and the flight ban is still in force. There is no danger to guests and locals on Riederalp (in the entire Aletsch Arena), however mountain restaurants have admitted that guests have stayed away and business has been slow.

All access roads and public transport is open, however the road from Bitsch to Ried-Mörel and Oberried is only open to residents and owners. All mountain railways are outside the exclusion zone and are in regular operation and 280 out of 317 kilometres of the hiking trail network are open. The hiking trails around Riederhorn (north and south) remain closed until further notice.



A helicopter at work in Bitsch, Switzerland. | Picture: Wild-CH Instagram

Paraglider pilots should please take note of the no-fly zone. The Riederalp paragliding launch site is closed until further notice. A general fire ban remains in place throughout the canton of Wallis/Valais.

The cause of the fire is speculated to be a short circuit in the power lines near the forest. The damage to the forest is significant. About 150 soccer fields worth of trees were lost and experts anticipate that it will take between 100-200 years for the forest to re-grow.

If you are currently traveling to, or are planning to travel to the area, make sure to check the road status for the Aletsch Arena before heading out. 

Thick smoke over the area in Bitsch, Switzerland. | Picture: Wild-CH Instagram


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