The fight against the forest fire on Vitosha mountain near Bulgarian capital Sofia continued for a fourth day on July as eyewitness reports from volunteers increasingly painted a picture of poor organisation of the fire-fighting effort.
Since July 2, more than 100 volunteers joined each day in the effort to contain the blaze. Despite regular reassuring comments from Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naidenov and other top officials that everything possible was being done to extinguish the fire, the accounts published by volunteers on blogs and reports by local media claimed that the situation on the ground was far from perfect.
Some volunteers had to wait for hours before they were briefed on safety rules and deployed to fight the fire, reports said. Many accounts said that there was no coherent management of the fire-fighting effort, with instructions often changing and – especially in the first days – authorities failing to deliver basic equipment like water pumps.
“In such situations, there will always be something missing – there are certain expectations, but the reality is different. This is the nature of our job, nothing can be predicted and there are always surprises,” the head of the fire-fighting and civil safety directorate of the Interior Ministry, Nikolai Nikolov, told Bulgarian National Television.
“It is impossible to get the equipment you need the moment you need it. I don’t know who is trying to raise the tension, but things with volunteers are good,” he said.
Poor organisation lent further credence to conspiracy theories that the fire-fighting effort was being intentionally sabotaged. Even less helpful was the authorities’ decision to turn back two fire-fighting planes from Israel – after confirming that the planes were en route and due to arrive in the early hours of July 4, the Interior Ministry said that the foreign aid was refused because the blaze was “under control”.
Toma Belev, the former director of Vitosha nature park, told television station bTV that he was certain that human intervention was the reason for the fire, possibly a careless poacher or even intentional arson.
Three helicopters continued to extinguish the fire and a prototype fire-fighting tank was deployed on July 4. Wide swathes of cut forest would prevent the fire from spreading, the Interior Ministry said.
At the same time, the blaze spread to 25 hectares, increasing by the day. It had not spread to living forest, the ministry said.
(Photo: Petar Kardjilov via offnews.offroad-bulgaria.com)