North Macedonia reels from raging wildfires during heat wave
In the region bordering Bulgaria, firefighters, police officers and soldiers working to stop the spread of the wildfires have been joined by many volunteers, often armed with just shovels and rakes.
State of emergency
North Macedonia has declared a state of emergency for 30 days in response to the wildfires that have been raging through the country for the last four days. That means the government in Skopje can centralize all resources and forces and take complete command of the situation from local communities. The scorching heat and strong winds have already resulted in huge damage.
More than 18 wildfires are currently burning and the situation is critical in many parts of North Macedonia, especially in the eastern region bordering Bulgaria, where evacuations began on Thursday. Firefighters, police officers and the army have been joined in the fight to stop the spread of the fire by many volunteers who are often armed with just shovels and rakes.
Although it's still too early to assess the loss caused by the wildfires, initial estimates suggest it will exceed the losses of the past five years combined. The damage to nature and wildlife cannot be measured. Thousands of hectares of woods have already been destroyed and experts say it will take decades — if not centuries — to recover.
Who is to blame?
Experts agree that although climate change is responsible for the extreme weather that caused the latest disaster, human factors are also in play. At least three people suspected of arson were arrested in recent days. The authorities have said human error and carelessness are other possible causes. The opposition has blamed the government for acting too late and too slowly.
Fire services not equipped
Critics have said authorities were unprepared for a disaster of such proportions. Firefighting trucks, like the ones pictured above, have been in service on average for more than 28 years. Most are literally from the previous century, with the majority being donations dating from the days of the former Yugoslavia. North Macedonia has three firefighting planes, but none are operational.
Heroes need rest
Firefighters in North Macedonia are fighting an around-the-clock battle to stop the flames from spreading into populated areas. Here, a group of firefighters takes a nap near the road between Berovo and Delcevo after a 14-hour shift. Over the past week, temperatures in the area have rarely dipped below 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) during the day.