Fire-fighting with a bang


I was startled to read this article.

A wildfire is consuming Slovenia and as the blaze moves across areas that were once battlefields during World War I, it’s meeting century-old unexploded ordnance with deadly results. According to the Slovenian press, fire swept across a WWI-era bomb on July 22 and detonated it while firefighters worked nearby. Shrapnel buzzed the firefighters but no one was hurt. It’s just one of many such bombs that have exploded due to the fire; officials have stopped counting detonations due to their sheer number, local news reported, only marking ones that explode near roads.

As first spotted by Task & Purpose, unexploded ordnance from World War I and II are a major problem in Europe. More than 1,000 firefighters and portions of the Slovenian military are working to contain the blaze, which has spread to almost 5,000 acres of land. “The problem is that because of the unexploded ordnance firefighting units cannot penetrate into the fire but can only act on its edges. This is why the fire is being intensively fought from the air as well,” Slovenian defense minister Marjan Šarec told the press.

The area where the fire rages was the site of 12 battles during World War I. More than 200,000 people died and untold numbers of explosives were used. It’s a major problem across Europe that lingers to this day. The Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe during World War II alone. Seventy years later, those bombs are still killing people.

There’s more at the link.

I have several friends who are, or were, members of Volunteer Fire Departments.  I also know a couple of professional bush firefighters out west, who call summer “fire season” and work for several months non-stop to prevent wildfires getting out of hand.  I’m not sure how many of them would be willing to volunteer for work where unexploded ordnance could kill them in a heartbeat, with no warning and no possibility of reducing the risk.

Some of that unexploded ordnance is pretty big stuff, too.  Remember the 12,000-pound “Tallboy” earthquake bomb discovered in a Polish canal a couple of years ago?

A lot of those were dropped over land, too.  I’d hate to be close to one when it decided to let go!

Even though they aren’t filled with anything like as much explosive, smaller bombs can send shards of their metal cases screaming in all directions for hundreds of yards.  I’m glad I’m not a firefighter in Slovenia right now . . .



  1. Back in the 60's they were still finding unexploded ordnance at Vicksburg. My cub scout master had cannonballs all over his yard from forays in the National Military Park before they banned treasure hunters in the 70's. Often wonder if any exploded.

  2. Y'know… I know it's probably more of a hazard to let the fire burn, but this is probably the cheapest way they're ever going to get that land safe for habitation again.

  3. One thing that impressed me while visiting WWII museums in Luxemborg and Belgium was their shrapnel collection. One usually thinks of shrapnel as potato chip sized and smaller hunks of steel whizzing around, but no. Some of those things must weigh 30 or more pounds, and the thought of them flying around the battlefield at supersonic speeds, or even just falling on you is downright scary.

  4. Worked with a missionary in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, back in the '80s, he worked in Honiara (Guadacanal) and told me about having to burn new garden areas to explode the leftover ordinance from WW2. Went there later and under the coconut palms in the plantations you could kick up rifle rounds almost anywhere.
    Early in the Bougainville revolution in 89 the rebels put a 500lb bomb next to a water pump station, piled grass over it and set fire to the grass, fortunately it didn't explode,

  5. Berlin found a bomb during a renovation of an old building a few years ago. Also, they still find unexploded shells, mustard gas, etc in N. France from the Great War.

    Europe is reminded on a regular basis of the the early 20th century wars.

  6. There is a red zone in France where you can't even go due to UXO from WW1. Farmers roll up stuff every time they plow outside the zone.

    I met a missionary who served in Bosnia. He said there were mines all over. If you had a flat, you didn't get off the road to change it. Story was, Tito had armories scattered all over Yugoslavia, and when their troubles in the 90's went hot, everyone raided them. They placed mines around their homes and in their fields. No records were made.

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