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Wildfires are Setting off Hundreds of Hidden Bombs on WWI Battlefields

Maxim Machine Gun WWI
A Maxim Machine Gun Being Used in World War I.

It seems that the heat wave that is spreading across Europe is having some pretty serious aftereffects that no one ever thought to expect – like WWI bombs going off: The summer’s unusually hot temperatures have led to several wildfires across Europe and, according to Vice World News, they are setting off unexploded World War 1 bombs in the process.

A wildfire in the southwest Kras region of Slovenia, which officials told The Washington Post was the biggest since the country’s independence in 1991, has destroyed more than 8,000 acres of farmland.

It’s also led to the explosion of countless WWI-era bombs, which had laid dormant for more than 100 years, per reports.

Darko Zonjič, the commander of Slovenia’s explosive ordnance disposal unit, told Slovenian media that they’ve stopped counting the number of detonations of these historic ordnances because there have been so many. Officials are now only taking note of explosions taking place near roads, Zonjič said.

It is estimated that, as of Thursday, there had been more than 500 detonations, according to local media.

The unexploded ordnances, mostly underground, explode when they overheat due to the extreme rising of temperatures as a result of the fires.

An incident on July 22 saw the heat from the raging fire set off an unexploded WWI-era bomb, launching shrapnel at nearby firefighters, per local media. Nobody was injured.

Igor Boh, the deputy commander of the state explosive ordnance disposal unit, told Insider that six members of the team were present at the scene of the fire. They were directing firefighters on how to avoid accidents due to explosions, he said.

“The EOD State Unit was successful in this, as there were no injuries or casualties among the firefighters,” Boh said.

The unit has so far removed 821 pieces of explosive remnants of war, weighing 4,630 lbs, according to Boh.

The danger of the fire setting off further unexploded bombs remains an issue and people are warned against walking on the land near the wildfire, said Slovenia’s defense minister Marjan Šarec, according to local media.

The site of the wildfire was where the Battles of the Isonzo, a series of 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies in WWI, took place. More than 200,000 people died there between 1915 and 1917.

Leftover unexploded ordnances cause problems for countries for a long time after the wars come to an end, as is the case in Slovenia, Task & Purpose reported.

Guy Momper, a bomb clearance specialist, told Reuters that it could take more than 100 years to clear all WWI-era munitions from former European battlefields.

Joshua Zitser is a Senior News Reporter at Insider’s (where this first appeared) London office. His writing has also appeared in The Times, The Telegraph, The Spectator, Independent, WIRED, and more. Joshua’s podcast documentary, “Handed Down: A Look Into Transgenerational Trauma,” was nominated for a Mind Media Award and an IRN Award.

Written By

Joshua Zitser is a Senior News Reporter at Insider's London office.