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Fires burn on across Balkans

Widespread wildfires in Albania, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro.

By - 04.09.2017

The heat wave across much of southern Europe this summer has once again brought wildfires around the Balkan peninsula.

Firefighters, armies and citizens have been tackling blazes in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro for over two months. In many cases the causes of the fires have been due to negligence, while in others they have been deliberately set.

Many parts of Europe have been heavily affected by an increase in the number of fires this year, with some sources estimating that there have been more than a thousand blazes across the continent already in 2017. Experts suggest that climate change is at least partially responsible for the rising number.

With many of the fires in the Balkans still raging, it is almost impossible to estimate the damage to date or the various costs.

Photo: Hrvoje Polan — Velebit, Croatia.

Currently, the biggest wildfires in Croatia are in the areas of Biokovo, including its nature park, and North Velebit. Despite huge efforts by the army and firefighters, due to strong winds, the fires are spreading.

Photo: Hrvoje Polan — Velebit, Croatia.

Those in the field are saying that the ground is burned. In Velebit, as in many other areas, it took time for help from the air to arrive.

Photo: Hrvoje Polan — Velebit, Croatia.

Croatian media are describing this year as one of the most extreme over the last decade when it comes to wildfires and there has been criticism of the slow response by those in charge. By some estimates, so far over 85,000 hectares of ground has burned.

'The fire has swallowed huge pine forests, endemic plants have disappeared, and the animals have left their habitats in fear of the fire.''

- Photographer Hrvoje Polan — Velebit, Croatia.

Photo: Velija Hasanbegovic — Podvelezje, BiH.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some of the broadcast media are leading their morning programs with reports about the fires. However, there are no estimates about how many fires there are or how much land has been destroyed or damaged.

Photo: Velija Hasanbegovic — Podvelezje, BiH.

In many cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina the local population has had to join forces with local firefighters, who lack people and equipment, to help prevent the fires from coming close to their houses.

'I think it is time … to define places where all the available equipment will be and to have a coordinated system as well as a 122 [emergency number] system.”

- Jelenka Milicevic, federal finance minister who is also responsible for civil protection in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, referring to her country’s complicated governance structures on August 24.

Photo: Velija Hasanbegovic — Podvelezje, BiH.

An added hazard for those working in the field in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that areas affected by fires are often covered by landmines left behind after the last war. Fires in the area of Mostar and Trebinje have been the most dangerous so far and have been burning the longest.

Photo: Savo Prelevic — Tivat, Montenegro.

In Montenegro fires are currently raging in many areas, including Cetinje, Bar, Kotor, Tivat, Podgorica, Zabljak, Savnik and Lovcen. Without the resources to fight all the fires, in mid-July the government asked NATO for assistance.

Photo: Savo Prelevic — Lustica, Montenegro.

Forests, fields and an olive grove have all been caught by wildfires in the area of Herceg Novi in Montenegro.

Photo: Matko Bulent — Has, Albania.

In Albania there have been fires in disparate areas, including surrounding the capital Tirana and the tourist areas of Vlore, Diber, Elbasan and Berat. Like in the rest of the region, the army has been asked to help tackle the blazes, while authorities are also considering asking for help from neighboring Greece, which is fighting its own fires.

One topic that has been almost completely neglected is how this will affect the ecosystem across the region.

Cedomir Crnogorac, a professor of physical geography from Banja Luka, warns that each wildfire causes huge damage to woods and fertile soil.

“After each wildfire, afforestation is needed. And in Bosnia, hardly anybody is doing that so I suspect that the biggest part of the area with fires will stay just with no forest or anything,” he said adding that the fires are also forcing many animals to leave specific areas.

Photo: Savo Prelevic — Lustica, Montenegro.

Only once all of the fires have been extinguished will it be possible to gauge the true extent of the damage caused.