Patocco: A jewel in the Julian Alps

The great fire of 2013 – Part 1

Fire – The first Three Weeks

L'inizio della grande incendio del estate 2013 con la prima tentata di spegnerlo -14 Luglio
The first sign of fire

This time last year, for three long weeks, a wild fire burned through the forested slopes of Monte Jovet above Patocco. The fire was believed to have been started by a lighting strike during a violent thunderstorm on 11 July 2013. The first firefighting response started on 14 July with a helicopter flying missions to drop water on what was then a small fire. The helicopters activities provided some entertainment for the inhabitants as this took place while everyone was gathered together for the feste di Patocco.

After, a couple of hours activity the smoke disappeared and the fire was declared extinguished. Sadly, this was not the case, a day later the helicopter was back as the fire had once again taken hold, burning through an ever larger area below the summit of Jovet.

Messaggero 16 Luglio 2013 – Chiusaforte – Incendio boschivo sopra la frazione di Patocco

Helicopters in Action

Over the course of the next three weeks, Patocco had two regular and very noisy visitors, helicopters I-NEED and I-HSUN which flew countless sorties over the village to drop water on the burning slopes of Monte Jovet above Patocco. With steep cliffs and impervious pine forest, the area around the summit of Monte Jovet is very difficult to access by foot making the firefighting effort more difficult.

Portare l'acqua sul ciucL'elicotero prta l'acqua dal torrent Raccolana
Helicopters I-NEED and I-HSUN in action above Patocco

Messaggero 16 Luglio 2013 – Spento l’incendio a Pietratagliata, riprendono le fiamme a Chiusaforte

The local squad from the “Protetzione Civile” established their base in a flat area on the banks of Raccolana stream a few hundred meters south of Saletto. This provided an ideal location for portable water tanks to be erected and filled allowing the helicopters to easily scoop up water. The base also provided somewhere for the helicopters to land and refuel. The helicopters used by the “Protetzione Civile” were both Eurocopter AS350B3 Ecureuils (Squirrels) operated by Elifriulia.

Assistenza logistica per l’intervento di antincendio boschivo fornita dal Gruppo comunale di Protezione civile di Chiusaforte (UD)

Arrival of the Canadairs

On 17 July reinforcements arrived from Italy’s national firefighting service in the form of three Candair firefighting planes and started to bomb the fire with water and fire retardant chemicals. However, it continued to spread with large plumes of smoke visible throughout the day and flames visible for some distance at night. The planes through regular trips flying west to Lago di Tre Comuni at Cavazzo, past Tolmezzo to scoop up another load of water. it should be remembered that the fire on Monte Jovet wasn’t the only one in the area. Another blaze was threatening the main communication arteries of the SS13 and the A23 motorway just a few Km north at Pietratagliata. This was putting extreme pressure on the available firefighting resources.

L'incendio sul grand Cuel visto da SalettoOttimo Lancia dal Canadair
The fire spreads to Gran Cuel and the Canadair's become a regular sight

Messaggero 18 Luglio 2013 – Servono i Canadair per domare l’incendio

Extinguishing the fire was made more difficult by the very hot and dry summer, with winds from the plains helping to fan the flames. As it is not possible to fly fire fighting missions at night, a daily pattern emerged with the fire being brought under control in the daytime, only to continue burning at night, or smoulder underground to re-ignite elsewhere. There were a couple of rain storms during the three weeks the fire raged above Patocco. Both brought a false sense of security and insufficient rain to fully extinguish the fire which, in both cases returned with a vengeance within a couple of days. As the fire was still high up on the mountain, there was little concern that it would actually reach the village, especially now that the Canadairs were in action. It was unthinkable that they wouldn’t bring it under control.

Messaggero 19 luglio 2013 – Tre aerei e due elicotteri ma le fiamme non mollano

A deteriorating situation

In the later days as the fire got bigger and started to burn across Gran Cuel, immediately above Patocco, rising air pressure at night trapped the smoke in the valley reducing visibility in the morning to less than one hundred meters. It was therefore not possible for the helicopters to fly until late morning, when the sun’s heat had released the trapped smoke. Furthermore, as the sun’s heat generated an afternoon breeze, the flames were fanned and the fire strengthened.

Elicottero Portando l'aqua sul CiucPompe pronte per intevenire
Water reserves and firefighting equipment being prepared in Patocco

By now, it was becoming apparent that, without some heavy rain to kill the flames, bring the fire under control was going to be difficult. As the flames crept ever closer to the houses of Patocco, the “Protetzione Civile” started working around the clock implementing a second line of defence, setting up reserve tanks of water, firefighting equipment and cutting vegetation to make fire breaks. The mayor of Chiusaforte also issued an order providing for the evacuation of the villages if circumstances required it.

Messaggero 20 luglio 2013 Fuoco vicino alle case, pronto un piano

Despite, the best endeavours of all those involved, the fire kept on advancing and by early August was getting dangerously close to the village. But, much worse was yet to come.

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