Heroes in the Holy Week

Sat, 04 Jul 2015Suceava, Romania
Author: Plt.maj. Alin Găleată

Alin Galeata It was a litttle after midnight, on Good Friday, and we were just resting a little when the fire alarm went off with a long sound. We jumped to our feet and whipped down the stairs. We put on our equipment and went out on the platform waiting for the info on the mission we were about to embark. The commander of the intervention guard of the Vatra Dornei Squad was long in coming, meaning that things were not that simple.

We were asking ourselves about the situation. In Dorna land, most of the summer interventions are for forest or stubble fields fires and, when the weather is getting cold, towards winter, the interventions are for ice and floodings. These missions are extremely harsh, mainly because of the long time they require to be accomplished.

The commander came and ordered us „to be as we were”. It was a fire started in the forest on the versant known as Piciorul Zgârciului, in Dornişoara, right at the border with Bistriţa-Năsăud. Those of us who were already there communicated that they were handling it and did not need the help of the military firefighters for the moment. The things that happened in the following days were about to be forever recorded in the black history of the fires that had destroyed entire hectares of stock of wood. Beside this true genocide against nature, hundreds of people had been detached and significant material resources had beeen used. The interventions for locating and extinguishing the fire started in the Holy Week and came to an end only ten days after, on May 13th. Many firefighters and their families could not enjoy Our Lord's Ressurection.

The fire truck started and left the premises. We were all squeezed in the back. At some point, sombedy took out several surgery masks and passed them out. We did not know the use of them yet, but found out later when we entered the sector that links Stampei Glade to Dornişoara. More than twelve km we walked on a forest road and the air filled with the dry dust raised by the truck's wheels and the toxic waste was unbreathable. We all thanked our comrade for being so cautious.

Eroi in Saptamana Patimilor | imaginea 2 After almost two hours we arrived at the closest place to the fire where the fire trucks could reach. We got off, took our backpacks and the rest of the equipment, after which we had to walk. The abrupt flank which we sometimes climbed on our hands and knees, left many of us out of breath, despite our good shape. For more than two km we carried hoses, power pumps, reducers, barrels, shovels and other things that we needed in our fight with the fire. As a matter of fact, during the entire intervention, coordinated by inspector general, colonel Ion Burlui, hundreds of militaries from the entire „Bucovina” Inspectorate for Emergency Situations of Suceava county, to which were added the firefighters from Bistriţa-Năsăud, Iaşi and Neamţ, packed the abrupt hills of Dornişoara. To their aid came the under-officers from “Roşu” Military Body and the forest rangers of Tihuţa-Colibiţa.

The place where the fire had started showed a stark view. All around there were stumps and fellings burnt to ashes. Unfortunately, a young regeneration wood had also burnt and the flames had affected even tall trees. In total, more than 50 burnt hectares.

We started to put out the reeking stumps and were trying to cover a wider area. The masks that we had used in the truck were now useful. The ash and dust that we were breathing were depositing on our lungs. Somebody behind me said: „Here's how to get yet another occupational disease for firefighters. A few days spent here and one gets to the hospital with silicosis.” The lack of water was our biggest problem in the fight with the fire. The embers hidden in the soil mixed with turf could not be put out unless we flooded the area. Rain would have been blessed. There were days when it was thundering a few metres away, but the rain drops refused to fall on the burning area. Moreover, after we had put out burning points over a significant area, the strong wind frustrated us and reignited the flames.

In that moment, the fire enclosed a wooded edge. The flames were dancing right in front of us on the pine trees' crests, engulfing them in a matter of seconds. Simultaneously, they were spreading to the neighbouring tree. We were speechless, watching the flames that could reach up to 30 m in height. Some of our colleagues managed to escape, in the last second, the giant furnace from above their heads. Nobody expected that the fire would spread so rapidly and with such an intensity. Day after day, from dusk till dawn, and sometimes, even at night, the fight with the fire was a fight of life-and-death.

Eroi in Saptamana Patimilor | imaginea 3 Fortunately, our biggest accomplishment was that we managed to extinguish the fire to reach Călimani National Park. The reservation was only a few metres from the last burning point. If the fire had managed to reach the secular forest, it would have been an epic disaster. And other fires started at the same time in the areas of Frumosu, Broşteni, Gura Haitii and Rusca. Thus, the fatigue after working around the clock was fueled by people who were burdening us with their irresponsibility. When we got to work we did not know which fire we should go to. It did not even matter. We just wanted it to be over.

Ten days later we were on a monitoring mission. Rarely could we found a reeking log. Raindrops started to fall from the sky. A fellow worker told us that he almost felt like crying and we never knew whether it was raindrops or teardrops we saw on his cheeks. He had been waiting for so long for the redeeming rain that was about to fall on the scorched flanks.

The way back to our Squad was way easier. We were all silent, exhausted after the effort. I kept looking at the faces of my comrades, covered in soot. I could barely recognize them and I was impressed that they never gave up, against all odds. True brothers-in-arms, truer than the characters in the famous novels by Sven Hassel. They are men who changed many a tragic destinies, be them persons or belongings rescued from harsh nature. They are men whom we so rarely speak of, due to various reasons. But certainly, they will always remain true unknown heroes in the memory of these places.

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