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Balkans: Another Heat Wave Predicted

Residents in the Balkans who are just recovering from last week's heat wave are being warned to expect more scorching temperatures in the next few days. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports that wildfires and water-pipe shortages are just some of the hazards of this hot summer.

Prague, 11 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The forecasts for more heat in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece come as officials in those countries are still struggling to compile information on heat-related damages from last week -- when temperatures across the Balkans soared as high as 43 Celsius. Similar temperatures are expected later this week.

Already, the heat wave has drawn attention to the problem of thefts of piping from farm irrigation systems in the Balkans.

Romanian officials say the crisis last week has revealed that more than half of all irrigation piping in the country has been stolen or damaged since 1990. The thefts have kept farmers from watering their fields during the current weather crisis and have contributed to the spread of wildfires.

In Bulgaria, similar thefts of irrigation piping also have contributed to hundreds of wildfires that are still burning out of control. Altogether, Bulgarian authorities say that more than 300,000 square kilometers of Bulgarian forests and farmland have been destroyed.

Bulgaria's Emergency Situations Minister Alexander Pramatarski says a complete estimate on damages from the heat wave won't be available until the end of the month. But this year's wheat crop is expected to be seriously damaged.

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov says the blazes also have shown that the government needs to create a more centralized command structure to cope with such emergencies on a massive scale.

The Bulgarian army is being accused of setting off wildfires in the southeastern part of the country that have destroyed more than 5,000 square kilometers of wheat fields and about 3,500 square kilometers of forest land. Reports say the army inadvertently started the fires by launching artillery barrages as part of a military training exercise during the weekend.

But Bulgarian Defense Minister Boyko Noev told RFE/RL today that the army is not responsible for the fires around the town of Haskovo. "The military training has stopped until the heat wave is over. The army doesn't start fires, but just extinguishes them."

In Croatia, officials are concerned that some 400 fires along the Dalmatian coast during the past week could hurt the country's tourism industry. A wildfire near Split crept to the northern suburbs of the town, destroying several houses and forcing evacuations before it was brought under control. Local officials across Croatia also have declared states of emergency because of temperatures that climbed into the 40s.

In the agricultural areas of northern Croatia, the heat wave compounded problems caused by a drought that has been going on since earlier this summer.

In Serbia's UN-administered province of Kosovo, the heat has caused the entire domestic power generation system to collapse. Nearby countries, trying to cope with their own high demands for electricity, were unable to spare any power. That forced Kosovo to rely for a time on a small export from Serbia proper and some hydroelectric power.

Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and Italy also have been hard hit by the heat wave. In Greece's northern province of Macedonia, firefighters today said they had finally brought most of the wildfires under control.

But firefighters are continuing to battle blazes in Turkey, Italy, and Cyprus. Pope John Paul yesterday left the scorching heat in Rome to start a holiday in a sleepy mountain hamlet in northern Italy. The pope told a group of children who had waited in the drizzling rain for his arrival that they should thank God for the rain.