Forest fires continue to rage across Balkans

Firefighters battle to contain flames as region experiences 15-day heat wave and worst drought in 50 years.

    Fires continued to rage in parts of Serbia, neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia, sweeping through forest and farmland dried to a crisp by temperatures that have soared above 40 degrees Celcius.

    The Balkans region is experiencing a 15-day heat wave with extremely high temperatures and the worst drought in 50 years.

    Al Jazeera's Marin Versic, reporting from Rujiste, just outside Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the landmines in the area, left over from the fighting of the 1990s, were "posing considerable problems for firefighters".

    "The firefighters have great problems reaching the fire. The only solution for this kind of situation is to fight the fire from the air," he said on Monday.

    Locals were doing their best to help the army, but strong southeastern winds were fanning the flames.

    The situation was particularly critical in the area around the coastal town of Split in Croatia, where the fire was approaching residential areas, our correspondent said.

    Fire 'contained'

    In Serbia, a forest fire at Tara National Park, a popular tourist spot in western Serbia, had been almost contained by the early hours of Monday, after raging through the night. Authorities had prepared evacuation plans at Tara but the situation improved meaning no evacuations were necessary. No casualties have been reported.

     Emergency services, backed by Russian aircraft, fight to contain fires near town of Cacak [Al Jazeera]

    Predrag Maric, head of the Serbian interior ministry's emergencies department, said on Monday that 430 firefighters deployed on the ground had managed to contain the fire, although firefighting planes could not operate in the area due to heavy clouds.

    Open flames have been put out, with firefighters now monitoring low-lying shrub-covered areas for signs of burning embers which may still pose a threat, he said.

    The fire at Tara, which at one point spread to 1,000 hectares of forest area and threatened nearby villages, has been one of the worst wildfires this summer in Serbia, where government authorities had registered almost 400 fires on Sunday alone.

    Emergency services, backed by the army and Russian aircraft, managed to contain fires near the town of Cacak that had forced some villagers to flee.

    "The fires near Cacak are contained. We'll remain vigilant here but we've turned our attention now to the [western] Tara mountain where the situation is critical," Predrag Maric, head of the Serbian interior ministry's Emergencies Department, said.

    Russian help

    Russia sent a Beriev Be-200, with a capacity of 12 tonnes of water, on Saturday and an Ilyushin 76 able to carry 42 tonnes on Sunday to aid Serbia's over stretched emergency services.

    "Our house is threatened and the authorities are nowhere to be seen all day"

    - Kruna Zivkovic,
    Vidova village resident

    Weather forecasters said rain was expected later on Sunday in Serbia and temperatures would drop.

    "We can still hold out, but it'll be difficult if it continues a few more days," Aleksandar Vucic, the country’s defence minister, told reporters in Belgrade.

    A number of houses went up in flames but no serious casualties have been reported. The government said it would provide aid for the areas hardest hit.

    "We are ready to provide food for the people and fodder for cattle as well as apartments for people who had to flee," said Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic.

    "We are urging people not to try to douse the fires on their own without firefighters," he said, though some villagers said they had little choice.

    "Three of us have been battling the flames all day," said Kruna Zivkovic in the village of Vidova near Cacak. "Our house is threatened and the authorities are nowhere to be seen all day."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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