Slovenia wildfires are setting off 100-year-old bombs on World War I battleground
In July 2022, a wildfire engulfed Slovenia and as it travelled through locations that were once battlefields during the First World War, it met with century-old explosive munitions with deadly consequences. According to a report on Vice News, a fire swept across a WWI-era bomb and exploded it while firemen worked nearby. The fire fighters were hit by shrapnel but no major injuries were reported. More than 1 000 fire fighters and elements of the Slovenian military have been fighting the fires, which has spread to about 5 000 acres of land..
There have been so many explosions that officials have stopped counting detonations, only marking those that explode near roadways. Vice News quoted local media reports to say that Prime Minister Robert Golob and President Borut Pahor paid a visit to the Kras region in western Slovenia on Sunday, 31 July 2022, where the major fire that had been blazing for 10 days appeared to be under control. Prime Minister Golob declared efforts to deal with the aftermath of the fire, as well as measures to avoid future fires of similar scale.
The fires alone are presenting risks to fire fighters but the risk of sudden, unexpected explosions add another level of danger.
Slovenia has sent in bomb disposal teams to help clear the space for containing and battling the fires. Slovakia, Austria and Croatia have also dispatched helicopter crews to assist in the efforts.
“The problem is that because of the unexploded ordnance fire fighting units cannot penetrate into the fire but can only act on its edges,” Slovenian Defense Minister Marjan Šarec told the Slovenian Press Agency.
During World War I, the border fight between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire saw more than 200 000 people die. Among the campaigns there were 12 battles to capture and advance across the Isonzo River, led on the Italian side by Luigi Cardona, who was infamous for his dedication to throwing troops into enemy fire and incurring heavy losses.
The ordnances appear to be standard explosives. According to World War I historian Simon Jones, it’s highly unlikely the unexploded bombs now going off contain mustard gas or any other chemical weapons. Although Austria-Hungary ordered mustard gas shells to the border front against the Italian armies in 1918, there was no evidence any were fired in the fighting.
Even though wars end, the risks from UXOs continues on for decades to come. The former Yugoslav nations still deal with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s. And Japan is still recovering and disposing of UXOs from World War II. Experts and people working in ordnance disposal believe it will take several more decades to clear the UXOs left over from World War I.
Local media reports said that the fire is currently under control but the region will have to be monitored for a few more days to ensure the wildfire does not re-emerge. Only a few hotspots remain in the northern half of the fire zone, where small subsurface flames are erupting, the reports further stated.
Sources: NDTV, Task and Purpose