Icelandic Language Blog

Reykjavík calling: we’re on fire (again). Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Hi all, it’s been quite an insanely busy and action-packed week, not to mention a small injury in the family has momentarily made a nurse out of me (although hopefully if you ever need a nurse it will be someone with better handling skills). We’re doing fine at the moment despite all my best efforts at taking care of the patient, so let’s get to the hot topic of the week.

Indeed, fire. The first one in the news was a dry cleaner’s place that, alas, burned down to the ground and is now called one of the worst fires in the history of Iceland (link). It’s quite near from where we live in fact and actually the first I knew of the fire was someone who lives in the same area complaining about the smell of smoke on FB.



Yup… quite near our place.

I immediately went outside to investigate and when I saw the cloud there could be no mistaking the conical shape of it, touching the ground in Skeifan shopping area like a very stationary tornado: something was burning and it wasn’t a small affair either.

There was plenty of luck involved in that only one building burned down. From the aerial videos you can tell the nearby buildings’ roofs were in danger and what’s worse, there were plenty of people in the area with the poisonous fumes and possibility of explosions making everything just a little bit more serious. Before you ask, no, those people didn’t just chance to be there. The moment Icelanders realized something unusual was going on they packed the whole family in the car and drove over to have a good look at it. Police pleading that everyone stay out of the way of the firefighters had little effect, in fact people were even trying to sneak behind the yellow police lines to get “the selfie of a lifetime” (link to the general mayhem).

But hey, at least the local hot dog stand made unusually good business that night (link)!

Links to more articles concerning the fire:

Fire in Reykjavík: Millions in Damage And Not the First Time (link)(article in English, lots of videos included)

Magnaðar myndir: gífurlegt tjón er Skeifan 11 brann (link)(= Great photos: untold damage when Skeifan 11 burned, in Icelandic but with lots of photos just like the title says)

Skeifan daginn eftir (link)(= Skeifan the next day, a video in Icelandic)

Frábær tækifæri til uppbyggingar í Skeifunni (link)(= Wonderful opportunity for re-building Skeifan, article in Icelandic)



Driving in a volcanic ash cloud during the Grímsfjall eruption.


Another burning topic of the day is Katla, the overdue volcano that’s been shaking for quite a while now. Don’t worry though, there’s not necessarily an eruption going to happen any time soon, but what has recently happened is another jökulhlaup, a glacier flood. Tourists and locals alike are being asked to stay far away from the flood water as it can carry along poisonous gas, not to mention the flood itself is of course dangerous on its own due to its unpredictable nature.

Has this stopped anyone? Hah, NO. If anything it has only drawn more people to the area, especially tourists.

Links to articles concerning the situation at Katla:

Experts: Katla Not Erupting But Stay Away (link)(article in English)

Seriously, Stay Away from Katla (link)(article in English)

Fara að Sólheimajökli þrátt fyrir viðvörun (link)(= Going to Sólheimajökull despite the warning, article in Icelandic)

Viðvaranir gera Kötlu bara meira spennandi (link)(= Warnings just make Katla more exciting, article in Icelandic)


Fire vocabulary:

Eldur = fire. However, a fire that has a known location is brenna, a burning. Brenna also translates as bonfire/pyre as in áramótabrenna (= New Year’s bonfire) and bókabrenna (= book burning).

This is a massively useful word to know because once you know it it’ll be easy to broaden your vocabulary with all the related- and compound words it’s in. Að elda mat = to cook food, eldhús = kitchen (because once upon a time the room with the fire literally was used for making food), eldfjall = volcano and eldfljótur = very fast, lit. transl. quick as fire. It’s also used as a way of stressing certain adjectives such as eldgamall = very old and eldforn = ancient.

Að brenna = to burn, to be on fire. Although it’s usually used similarly to its English counterpart the difference is that it’s somewhat harder to use it to say something burned you – it’s always you who burn yourself on something when it comes to Icelandic. Therefore whenever you get burned, be it by fire, stove or sun, you have to include “ég brennti mig í…” (= I burned myself by/with/in…) Another good reason to avoid trusting online translation too much – “það brennur” does not actually mean “it burns/it’s very hot”, it means “it’s on fire”.

Brenna is another great word because when you see it you know it’s got something to do with burning of some kind: brennihár = nettle hairs (can also mean other stinging plants), brennigler = magnifying lens you can use to light a fire, brennivín = Icelandic vodka, lit. transl. “burning wine” and so forth.

Bruni =fire/burning. Not to be confused with brunnur (= well, fountain).

Eldsvoði = lit. transl. fire danger: a big fire, a house on fire. Cannot be used for any small fire or fire that’s under control.

Að kveikja = to start a fire, to turn on the light. Another word from the era where the only source of light was fire.

Að loga =to lighten surroundings, to burn. Lampinn logar = the lamp is lit/spreading light. Logandi can also be used to stress adjectives’ meaning in a similar way to eld-: logandi falleg = extremely beautiful. You can also find it in fari það í logandi = that can go to hell, lit. transl. may that burn.


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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!