VIDEO: Zrće Fire Sees Croatian Firemen Showcase Heroism Once Again

Lauren Simmonds

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More than sixty Croatian firefighters and three canadairs were able to extinguish the shocking fire that went on for about one hour in the woods near Zrće beach in Novalja on the island of Pag.

As 24sata/Bogdan Blotnej/Denis Gascic, Bojana Mrvos Pavic/Antica Vulic writes on the 16th of July, 2019, the fire on Zrće beach had risen to double the height of the pine trees, and a strong bura quickly spread the flames to Zrće’s popular Kalypso club. Croatian firefighters managed to successfully defend the club from being engulfed by the inferno at the very last minute.

The fire burned through a relatively untouched and unmanaged pine forest before breaking out and threatening Zrće beach and its numerous popular facilities.

”We managed to stop the fire when it was just 300 metres away from one club,” said Hrvoje Ostović, the Lika-Senj County Fire Department’s commander.

The problem was that there were about 10,000 people on Zrće beach at the time the fire broke out, who came to the Fresh Island Festival and to visit the Papaja and Kalypso nightclubs. The Croatian firefighters, helped by the police, had to evacuate them because of the strong bura that had changed the direction of the approaching flames. Even though they had started to tackle the fire, people’s help was also sought through social networks. At approximately 02:30, an appeal was sent out from the Kalypso club.

”Kalypso is endangered by fire! Whoever can, please come and help to defend the club!” read the post.

The fun quickly came to a halt and everyone had to run. Within ten minutes, people headed to the other beach and then to the buses heading away from Zrće. Firefighters literally attacked the fire from the very beach and prevented it from approaching the clubs at all.


At one point, the flames even reached the substation, but they managed to rescue the situation. Additional help from Zadar County and Zadar fire departments arrived, as did additional forces from Lika-Senj County.

”Even when the fire was being successfully tackled we noticed a large number of people who were in the woods,” Ostović said. That is why policemen who helped went into the forest to evacuate them.

“You can only imagine what that looked like, it was at night, the bura was blowing, the fire was burning, and then we managed to evacuate the young people, first to the neighbouring beach, where there’s no forest, and then, when the fire calmed down, at dawn when the Canadairs came, evacuation towards the town of Novalja began,” said Novalja’s mayor Ante Dabo.

He thanked the firefighters for their selfless sacrifice, as well as the people on the island as a whole, who showed complete solidarity. After nearly five hours of attempting to kill the fire during the night, with the arrival of dawn, the firefighters managed to regroup. Two canadairs arrived at dawn.

”Immediately upon arrival at the fire’s location we saw how it had evolved from Zrće and had headed in the direction of Novalja. It burst through the road leading to Novalja and it’s very good that we arrived at that moment because we stopped it right there. We continued to fight it and helped the firefighters keep it under control,” said the captain of the canadair crew, Major Tomislav Slavica. Eventually, a third canadair arrived. Together, they released a total of 470 tons of water onto the flames.

”We’re tired. We were out on the field for twelve hours without stopping. The forests in Dalmatia are greatly appreciated, and this is a huge pity,” said Goran Podunavac from the Novalja fire department.

”We’ve been there since the morning. It’s still smoldering everywhere, we’re trying stop the fire from beginning again,’ said four firefighters from the Pag fire department. 

Ivan Orlić, Toni Sabolić i Neno Buljanović arrived at the fire’s location near Caska beach. They were aided by their colleague Željko Smojben from the Senj fire department.

”We went with our backpacks to the edges and manually started attacking the fire. We were putting the fire out for an hour, then resting for half an hour, then starting again from scratch,” explained one of the firemen when detailing their method.

There was also deputy chief of police Željko Prša, who hadn’t commented on the causes of the fire, saying only that it was caused by humans, either purposely or accidentally. He has denied any speculation of arrests having been made.

”I hope everyone is safe. Try not to breathe in the smoke. Cover your nose and mouth with your shirts and whatever you can,” wrote the British rapper Luke Olanrewaju B Odunaike (21) on the night of the fire, better known under the name of Not3s.

He appeared only a few moments before the fire broke out, and of course the organisers stopped everything. The famous rapper Micheal Ray Stevenson (29), who is known to the public under the name Tyga, was also set to play on Zrće. His performance was postponed, and the “curse” of the Fresh Island festival continued. Chris Brown’s performance was also stopped back in 2016 because of the bura.

”I’ve never seen a fire like that in my life, it was everywhere, it was terrible! I wasn’t afraid until my friend said: ‘Kim, it’s going to burn us all,’ then, I was more frightened than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Kim Buneta (22), a girl from Rijeka who works at the Kalypso club on Zrće beach.

As we reported earlier, it turns out that the fire was caused by humans, but whether or not it was an accident is yet to be determined. The police continue to maintain that no arrests have been made.


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