Patocco: A jewel in the Julian Alps

The great Fire of 2013 – Part 3

Val Raccolana in flames

This is the third and final article in a series of three. They describe the forest fire that threatened Patocco and the Val Raccolana last year during July and August 2013. The fire burned for three weeks on Monte Jovet (Read Part 1) until on 4 August the fire finally reached Patocco and crossed Rio Chiout Cali.

From 5 August, with the fire no longer contained, it was burning along the northern flanks of Val Raccolana in an easterly direction. The front stretched from the valley floor, to below the cliffs of Cimone a total length of perhaps 1000-1500 meters. It was also extending down the eastern side of Rio Chiout Cali and threatening the houses there, as well as potentially other inhabited areas of the valley.

Protezione Civile – Foto Gallery 5 August

In Patocco, although the fire had been prevented from reaching the houses, and from spreading across Rio Patocco to Monte Jama, or below Patocco, the forest was still smouldering. The major firefighting effort had now moved up-valley with a fight on to protect the houses at Chiout Cali and beyond. Whereas, in Patocco there was only a small force left to monitor the situation and to deal with any flare-ups.

Incendio Boshivo  nel Val Raccolana 6 August 2014Incendio Boshivo  nel Val Raccolana 6 August 2014
The fire burning in Val Raccolana 6 August 2013 (Seen from Patocco)

Photos from 6 August

Val Raccolana in Flames –
Messagero Veneto 6 Agosto – Val Raccolana in Fiamme – La Foto 1
Messagero Veneto 6 Agosto – Val Raccolana in Fiamme – La Foto 2
Messagero Veneto 6 Agosto – Val Raccolana in Fiamme – La Foto 3
Protezione Civile – Foto Gallery 6 August

The night of 6th August saw the fire re-gnite behind il Ciuc, which caused a brief scare as flames lit up the night sky only tens of meters from the houses. The Vigili del Fuoco attended but could only get a small vehicle to the scene due to the deficiencies of the access road. This in turn delayed their attempts to extinguish the blaze as they arranged other pumps to provide water, with the help of the local squad from the “protezione civile”.

The early morning smog was a major problem for several days with visibility reduced to as little as 50M at times. This also prevented airborne firefighting until late morning when the air had cleared. Around mid-day on 7th August the fire again re-ignited behind “il Ciuc”. A call to notify the Vigili Del Fuoco produced the hilarious response from the operator that it was not their responsibility unless a house was on fire.

Fortunately, whilst local residents started to tackle the flames themselves, the local squad from the “protezione civile” again attended. By this time, the sky was clearing and the first Canadair of the day was approaching. It was immediately re-directed to deal with this new flare up, with everyone having to run like crazy from the scene to avoid being drenched as the Canadair dropped its load.

Messagero Veneto 8 Agosto – Nuovi focolai nel corso dell’altra notte a ridosso di Patocco, spenti dal tempestivo intervento dei vigili del fuoco.

It took several more days of effort from the Guardia Forestale and Protezione Civile, before there was confidence that the danger to Patocco had passed. Particular effort was required, in Rio Patocco, the fire continued to burn and support from Canadairs and Helicopters was still required.

Messagero Veneto 7 Agosto – Monte Jovet, altra notte di paura

Incendio Boshivo  nel Rio Patocco 6 August 2014Helicopter Firefigting in Val Raccolana 6 August 2014
6 August 2013 - The fire is still burning in Rio Patocco with helicopters still attacking the flames

Meanwhile, the fire was raging up the Val Raccolana threatening the altipiano di Montasio, with its cattle and buildings, as well as habitations along the valley floor. At this point it all started to get political with the President of the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia, Debora Serracchiani, coming to the scene in person on 6 August. With another fire still burning at Petratagliata the situation worsened as both the main SS13 was closed at Pietratagliata and the SP76 in Val Raccolana was closed between Tamaroz and Pianni di Qua.

Squadra Anti Incendio con Debora Serracchiani
6 August 2013 President of the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia, Debora Serracchiani on a visit to the scene with some of the firefighters and volunteers (Photo from:

La Protezione Civile del Friuli Venezia Giulia impegnata in interventi di antincendio boschivo nei comuni di Chiusaforte e di Pontebba

Meanwhile the media were taking much more interest in the story including this piece about some English guy living in Patocco, of course, we have no idea who that could be 🙂

More News articles

il gazzettino 6 Agosto – Il bosco a fuoco da 23 giorni: fumo e odore arrivano dallo Jovet in città

Messagero 7-Agosto: Chiusaforte, il grazie del sindaco: una grande prova di solidarietà

il gazzettino 7 Agosto Monte Jovet, incendio inarginabile: «Bruciati mille ettari»

Reinforcements arrive

As the political temperature started to rise more resources became available including a Sikorski sky crane – the Erickson S64-E/F – a helicopter capable of dropping 9000 litres of water at a time. This lumbering beast made many trips up and down the Val Raccolana dropping water on the flames now approaching Montasio. This helicopter offered several advantages over the Candair. It can carry more water, drop it with more precision on the flames and was able to reload close by in small reservoirs in Val Raccolana and at Sella Nevea reducing the time for each round trip. the video clip below shows the S-64 in action.

The late intervention of the S-64 and a shortage of Canadairs were the subject of much political discussion as, what had been a well equipped fleet, was largely grounded by government spending cuts.

In the villages of the Val Raccolana dissent was also rising at the lack of resources and the way the crisis had been handled. At Saletto a mass was held on the 8 August to prey for rain, and there were also some angry encounters between local residents and the officials and politicians responsible for resolving the situation.

The political issues were also becoming a subject of discussion in the press:

Messaggero 9 Agosto – In val Raccolana fiamme e polemiche
Messaggero 9 Agosto – Il bosco continua a bruciare e siamo in oggettiva difficoltà per arrivare allo spegnimento definitivo
Messaggero 10 Agosto – Maria da Tamaroz: «Da qui me ne andrò solo in una cassa…»

Messaggero 10 Agosto – Al lavoro contro l’incendio – Foto 4
Messaggero 10 Agosto – Si moltiplicano gli sforzi in val Raccolana Foto 5
Messaggero 11 Agosto – Assessore in ferie, rientra in fretta. E Riccardi attacca: scandaloso

Panontin From the Regione FVG thanks the commander of the firefighters from Carinzia
Panontin From the Regione FVG thanks the commander of the firefighters from Carinzia (Foto:Regione FVG)

As well as the S-64 and large numbers of firefighters and volunteers from the Protezione Civile, the Italians were joined by a firefighting team of around forty men from Austria, together with specialist equipment which they used to tackle the fire from the Altipiano of Montasio where the dairy businesses were under threat. Finally, the weather broke and with a change of wind direction and the arrival of intermittent rain, the fire was, at last, brought under control.

The activities of the Austrian Firefighters are described on their website (In Tedesco). It seems, not only were they good at firefighting, but someone was an excellent photographer as this website contains some of the most impressive photos of the fire-fighting efforts.

Messaggero 11 Agosto – Montasio, fermata l’avanzata delle fiamme

More links and Photo Galleries

Proseguono gli interventi di antincendio boschivo della Protezione Civile del Friuli Venezia Giulia 7 – 9 agosto 2013

La Protezione Civile impegnata in interventi di antincendio boschivo nell’area montana del Friuli Venezia Giulia 10 – 12 agosto 2013

Gallery interventi 7 agosto
Gallery 8 agosto
Gallery 9 agosto
Gallery 10 agosto

Messaggero 12 Agosto – Monte Jovet, rogo sotto controllo. Ora divampano le proteste – Foto gallery

After the fire

Once the fire was under controlled the inevitable political arguments and search for whom to blame started. On a visit to Val Raccolana,11 Agosto the president of the Regione Serracchiani was given a hard time by angry villagers (Messaggero 12 Agosto – Serracchiani prova a spegnere la protesta ). The main “statale” SS13 remained closed between Chiusaforte and Pontebba until 13 August, as did the Provincial Road SP76 to Sella Nevea until 14 August.

Although the worst was over small fires were still burning and on a couple of occasions the helicopters were again in flight. There were also major works in progress to secure the road in The Val Raccolana.

Messaggero 17 agosto 2013 – Si lavora in Val Raccolana, ma l’emergenza roghi rientra
Messaggero 18 agosto 2013 – Nuovi focolai ed è di nuovo allarme
Messaggero 19 agosto 2013 – Chiusaforte, i focolai tutti sotto controllo

Meanhile, other discussions started about what could have been done and what should have been done. In an interview with the newspaper Messaggero, Enrico Marcon, in charge of the Protezione Civile for the Comune di Chiusaforte said one error was forgetting how things were done in the old days. The rain started it and the rain put it out he said, quoting an old proverb. However, he made the point that, in the old days when many people lived in the villages, trees were kept a long distance away from the houses. Indeed, the Mayor of Chiusaforte agreed and issued an order that all trees and grass was to be kept cut down within 150M of any houses (Messaggero 10- Agosto Via gli alberi fino a 150 metri dalle case)

Panoramic view of Il Sbrici seen from above Patocco
15 August 2013 - The incinerated forests on the steep slopes of 'Il Sbrici' seen from the path above Patocco

With around one thousand hectares of forest destroyed attention also turned to the ecological impact with suggestions the forest would take twenty years to recover and concerns about the mass destruction of wild life. The satellite image below is taken from a report about the fire prepared by the Protezione Civile Regionale. It shows how the fire spread with time and the areas affected.

Satellite Image showing the extent of the 2013 fire in Val Raccolana
Spread of the fire in Val Raccolana in July and August 2013 (Source: Protezione Civilie Regionale FVG)