Dubrovnik escapes Croatian forest fire

Dubrovnik escapes Croatian forest fire

6 August 2007

published by www.msnbc.msn.com

Croatia — A fast-spreading weekend forest fire that had threatened Croatia’s best-known tourist attraction, the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, was “contained” on Monday after a drop in the wind helped the fire-fighting effort.

Although no full-scale evacuation took place, people fled from the hillside villages, where the fire was reported to have destroyed several houses.

Hundreds of tourists found themselves stranded for hours at Dubrovnik airport as flights were delayed and roads into the city were closed. Hotels along the seafront reported panic among guests, some of whom had to be saved from drowning after jumping into thewater.

The smoke-filled streets and disaster counter-measures prompted some residents to recall the shelling by Serb and Montenegrin troops on the hilltops in 1991-92, during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Forest fires are a normal occurrence in the south-eastern European summer. However, hotter, drier conditions this year have overstretched the region’s fire-fighting capabilities, raising concerns about how to cope if global warming makes the fires worse in future tourist seasons.

Croatia suffered 800 separate blazes last month, officials said.

The Dubrovnik fire started in the hills along the nearby border with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday and, propelled by a wind from the north, had affected several villages by Sunday, witnesses said. More than 500 fire-fighters, volunteers and soldiers were mobilised, along with two Canadair water bombers and other fire-fighting aircraft, to prevent the flames spreading to the Unesco-protected walled town.

No damage estimate was available on Monday. However, local tour operators criticised municipal officials for having failed to install hydrants on the hill of Srd, from which fire-fighters could have tapped into the abundant underground water supply.

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