Countries in the region joined forces to stem fires caused by high temperatures.
By Klaudija Lutovska for the Southeast European Times from Skopje -- 03/08/12
A firefighter battles a fire on the outskirts of Podgorica on July 17th. [Reuters]
Several regional countries joined together to help douse fires sparked by high temperatures and dry conditions last week. The blazes in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) caused at least four deaths and more than a dozen injuries. Officials say that fires are still burning, but are under control.
In Macedonia, a fire in Strumica killed three people and injured 14.
The government adopted a decision in mid-July to provide equipment, including firefighting aircraft, to aid Greece. The same aid was provided for Bulgaria, where Macedonian Army helicopters joined Bulgarian teams to put out a huge forest fire in the country's northern region of Veliko Tarnovo.
"The engagement of people and equipment will be realised at time of request of support from Bulgaria or Greece," the government said in a statement.
The Macedonian government set up a commission last month comprising the Directorate for Protection and Rescue, the Centre for Crisis Management, Macedonian Forests -- a public enterprise that owns and manages the country's forests -- the national health service and the environmental, interior affairs and defense ministries to deal with the fires.
"This is a national body, but it is in co-ordination with the European Commission" to provide assistance to other countries in the region, Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Minister Ljupco Dimovski told SETimes.
"This year we are more alert than before, knowing that all previous institutions partially conveyed their powers and activities for protection," Vojo Gogovski, a consultant for the forestry and hunting sector of the agriculture ministry, told SETimes.
Fires are still burning, but are under control in Strumica, Dolno Dupeni, Grupcin and Nivicino.
“This year, [we have had] 344 fires that burned 2,166 hectares," Saban Saliu, protection and rescue directorate director, told SETimes.
A Russian helicopter is expected this week in Nis, Serbia, to help extinguish the fires there, and a Russian defense aircraft will be stationed at the Nis airport beginning August 18th.
"The Serbian-Russian Centre for quick response in case of fire, flood and earthquake is open for all countries in the region that have a need for co-operation in order to fight emergencies," Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told SETimes.
In Montenegro, fires raged for more than 15 days in the country's north, engulfing nearly 500 hectares.
Serbia and Croatia offered assistance, sending helicopters and soldiers.
According to the chief of the Emergency Situation Department at the Serbian Internal Affairs Minister Predrag Maric, the ministry and the army have three fire helicopters. "We are ready at any moment to send them all our neighbours in the region, as we did when it recently was needed to Montenegro," he told SETimes.
Maric said his department is finalising a plan for the engagement of Russian "Kamov" helicopters, which carry 5 to 7 tonnes of water.
Thanks to an agreement between the BiH and Croatia on co-ordination during catastrophes, BiH was able to control the fires that broke out there with assistance.
In the municipality of Konjic, 25 members of the Armed Forces of BiH, a EUFOR helicopter and two Canadair planes from Croatia joined to battle a blaze.
SETimes contributors Biljana Pekusic in Belgarad, Bedrana Kaletovic in Sarajevo and Drazen Remikovic in Podgorica contrinuted to this article.