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Over 1,000 firefighters, several aircraft continue to battle Kras fire

Renče, 23 July - More than 1,000 firefighters and more than 260 foresters are still on the ground as the fire in the Kras region in western Slovenia continues to rage. Several helicopters, a Pilatus military aircraft and a Croatian Canadair water bomber also take part in the effort that is now focused on the Trstelj hill and surrounding villages.

Renče
A Croatian Canadair water bomber putting out fire on the Trstelj hill.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

A few more helicopters that had been active in the past days are on their way from abroad, while the aid from three aircraft of the Romanian Armed Forces has also been approved through the European aid mechanism.

Two Spartan aircraft that can load up 6,000 litres of water and are comparable to Canadair have arrived from Romania to Ljubljana airport in the afternoon, in addition to a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which will serve as support.

Also coming are 800 firefighters from other Slovenian regions to relieve the exhausted colleagues who have guarded the perimeter around Opatje Selo over the night. New hot spots also popped up in Korita na Krasu and Hudi Log.

While the firefighters are battling the fire that devastated a vast area in Kras, the foresters, including 30 employees of the Slovenian State Forests (SDG) company, are clearing up corridors and cutting down the vegetation around endangered villages.

The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) also participate in the effort with a helicopter and around 130 soldiers on the ground. They are helping with the logistics and in the supply of water and medical services.

The SAF has eight water tanks with the total capacity of 60,000 litres on the ground, while the helicopters are being supplied with fuel from two fuel tanks, said lieutenant colonel Nina Raduha, adding that the soldiers were also distributing warm meals.

Defence Minister Marjan Šarec, who is again at the site today, said that all the effort had to be focused on "enclosing" the fire as much as possible. He added that a Hungarian CASA fire-fighting aircraft was also on its way to the fire site.

Šarec assessed the flight control as excellent, saying that "it is a great challenge to coordinate as many aircraft in such a small space and avoid collisions", and noting that visibility was very poor at the fire site due to smoke.

The minister said that the wind was picking up again "so we cannot say that we can be at peace" and that precipitation had been
forecast only for next Tuesday. "We must focus on enclosing the fire, as relying on rain is not a good firefighting tactics."

Šarec said that all available aircraft were in the air - in addition to two Slovenian military and one police helicopter, helicopters from Austria, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia have also joined the effort.

The firefighting effort is focused on Trstelj, the tallest hill in the area, the village of Renče, some 10 km south of the city of Nova Gorica, and the surrounding hamlets and the forested areas of the edge of Kras.

The regional Civil Protection centre has announced that residents of six villages and hamlets in the municipality of Miren-Kostanjevica can return to their homes after being evacuated on Friday.

In certain hamlets, the fire came dangerously close to buildings, with a lodge between Renče and Trstelj being burned down, Renče-Vogrsko mayor Tarik Žigon told the STA, adding that this was the only material damage so far.

As the weather forecast is not promising, and the situation is changing rapidly, although the fire in Renče has calmed down, he said, noting that the locals remained on high alert.

"As far as I know, a strong southerly wind is again forecast for the afternoon, so they are concerned that yesterday's scenario could repeat," Žigon said.

Issues are also being caused by the smoke, which has spread from Kras to the north-east, reaching the region of Gorenjska and central Slovenia. The Slovenian coast is also shrouded in smoke that causes respiratory problems and eye irritation.

The government announced yesterday compensations for the volunteer firefighters for the time they take off from work. Those fighting the fire up to eight hours a day will receive EUR 63, while those working for longer hours will get EUR 94.50.

This prompted local entrepreneur Ivo Boscarol to announce that he would donate to the government the same amount as it earmarked for the firefighters. "The doubled amount of the reward goes to those for whom we keep fingers crossed these days," he said.

The Defence Ministry announced that Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin visited the fire site today, meeting Defence Minister Šarec in the Civil Protection centre in Kostanjevica na Krasu.

As the Serbian police force participates in the fire-fighting effort with two helicopters and crews, Vulin noted in a press statement the importance of mutual aid, as no country can handle a fire like the one in Slovenia on its own.

He said it was a great honour to be able to help Slovenia and conveyed the good wishes of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

Slovenian Interior Minister Tatjana Bobnar also met Vulin as he arrived in Slovenia, with both her and Šarec thanking the Serbian minister for the aid that "is more than needed and welcome in the given situation."

Fires has meanwhile also broke out in several locations in the Hrpelje-Kozina municipality in the south-west. Firefighters are currently battling a wildfire on the Kotel hill near the Slavnik mountain.

The terrain is difficult to access and firefighters are unable to come close to the fire, so they are being assisted by a Slovenian police helicopter.

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© STA, 2022