Croatian wildfire death toll increases

 Croatian wildfire death toll increases

17 September 2007

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Croatia — A Croatian firefighter died yesterday from burns suffered while battling a wildfire which killed 11 of his colleagues, a hospital in the coastal town of Split said.

Ante Juricev-Mikulin, 22, received the injuries fighting a blaze in the national park on the central Adriatic island of Kornat on Aug. 30.

It was the worst incident of its kind in the country.

Six firefighters, professionals and volunteers, were killed on the spot while another six, including Juricev-Mikulin and two 17-year-olds, have since died in hospital.

In an apparently related tragedy, an official from a volunteer fire service that lost four members in the fire hanged himself yesterday, police said.

Police did not elaborate but, according to local media reports, Gordan Alfirev, the secretary of the fire service in coastal Vodice, could not cope with the mass loss of life.

According to preliminary results of an investigation into the fire deaths, the men were cut off when the wind suddenly changed direction and caused flames to flare.

The findings, revealed last week, also showed that two firefighting commanders, one of whom died in the blaze, failed to react adequately to prevent the disaster.

The other commander was detained earlier this month.

Police had arrested a national park receptionist suspected of starting the fire by throwing a cigarette butt into the grass.

The tragedy was most likely caused by a “combination of unfortunate circumstances,” police chief Marijan Benko said.

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