Kras fire under control as wind dies down

Ljubljana – Some 1,000 firefighters from all across the country and several aircraft have been battling a vast fire in the Kras area all day on Wednesday. Prime Minister Robert Golob told TV Slovenija that the fire, which had spread across 1,000 hectares, was under control and that no houses burnt down.

Some 800 firefighters will remain on the site during the night, MMC news portal reported. The situation started calming down in the afternoon.

Ervin Čurlič of the regional Civil Protection centre told the STA that the fire was still burning, but the wind has died down a bit, after having worsened the situation substantially during the day. Nevertheless, the situation was still very demanding, he warned.

In the afternoon, the number of firefighters battling the flames climbed to 1,000. They were helped by several choppers of the Slovenian police and military forces, an Austrian helicopter, a Slovenian Pilatus military cargo plane and a Croatian Canadair water bomber.

Earlier in the day, about 300 people from the villages of Sela na Krasu, Hudi Log, Korita na Krasu, Nova Vas and Miren were evacuated. Meanwhile, most of the evacuees have been allowed to return to their homes, MMC said. Still, locals are advised to follow the developments in case further evacuations will be necessary.

Civil Protection commander Srečko Šestan said the wind was forecast to turn toward the coast at around 8pm and then die down completely. He believes this was an opportune time to “attack the fire at full force before it gets dark, which brings yet new risks”.

In the night, aircraft cannot continue to fight the fire but will return first thing in the morning, said Šestan. Apart from problems with the hydrant system, firefighting was hampered by dense smoke today, he said.

At this moment, residents can be calmer, said Šestan, adding that only one house sustained fire damage, according to his information. Firefighters also managed to avoid serious injury, although five or six sought medical help due to smoke inhalation and one sustained minor burns.

Golob and European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič arrived in Kostanjevica na Krasu in the afternoon to get first-hand information about the situation.

Golob praised the work of firefighters and said units had two tasks ahead: to clean terrain where fire could break out again during the night and for new units to take the place of the worn out firefighters battling the flames at the moment.

He announced an emergency law to help the locals and increasing capacities for fighting fires from the air. He also said he and Lenarčič discussed cross-border cooperation with Italy. The pair agreed a plan should be made together with Italy on how to protect this border region together.

Lenarčič noted that situation was critical in several parts of Europe, stretching national firefighting capacities to their limits.

“Therefore we get many aid requests. Our system has received four requests from the most affected countries, but the problem is that these arrived at the same time.” He believes the situation has demonstrated the solidarity of Europe, with countries helping each other despite battling fires of their own.

He said the manufacturer of Canadair water bombers would relaunch production following an agreement with the European Commission.

Defence Minister Marjan Šarec also visited the area, saying the units fighting the fire were well trained and experienced and praised international cooperation. He said that an additional risk was posed by unexploded ordnance from World War I, which may be detonated by the fire.

The minister believes the situation will remain “quite complex” for the next two days. After the fire is put out the military will be inspecting the area with thermal cameras for a week, he said.