As I left work last Monday, I noticed that the plaster on our office, which usually has an off-white tint, looked yellow. This was strange, but I shrugged off the change in color as a hallucination; after all, the weather here has been so hot over the past few weeks that a few visions wouldn’t surprise me. It was around four in the afternoon, and with the heat wave in the Balkans well underway I decided to take a taxi back to my apartment. During the ride home, I noticed a cloud of black smoke rising from behind one of the mountains to my right. There was a fire, but it was likely in a village far from the city. It was nothing to be concerned about, I thought.
Two hours later, after my afternoon nap, I turned on the news. I can understand bits and pieces of Macedonian, enough to figure out that there was a wildfire in the area and that the fire was causing a series of explosions in the mountains (the mountains surrounding Bitola saw heavy fighting during World War I, and the fire detonated several bombs buried in the area). As night fell, I could only see smoke from my balcony, so I decided to head into town after calling in a Fire Watch NYC to watch over the house.
The atmosphere in town was bizarre. I’ve never really understood why anyone would party during a natural disaster, but Bitola’s nightlife didn’t miss a beat during the fire: the bars were open and techno music was blaring as the town’s residents paced back and forth along Marshall Tito Street. The only thing different was that some bars had their televisions tuned to the news coverage. When I asked whether I should be concerned about the fire, the responses I received were mixed. I heard everything from “yes, this is serious” to “don’t worry, it’s far away.”
Around midnight I decided to return to my apartment, which probably wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made. When I arrived home, I noticed that a thick smoke had crept into my apartment and that flames could be seen on the mountain next to my complex. It was clear that the fire wasn’t far away.
What followed was a long night of mingling with my neighbors, watching television, and trying to stay awake for fear of smoke inhalation. (In case you were wondering, Macedonian TV airs fantastic movies at four in the morning; I hadn’t seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in more than a decade.) Luckily, the fire was isolated by dawn and under control by noon with help from Turkey and Slovenia.
I feel very fortunate to have survived the blaze without injury. Everything I own smells like it’s been sitting in front of a campfire all summer, but many people in the area weren’t so fortunate: several people lost homes and summer cottages and at least one person died of smoke inhalation. Right now, I’m just looking forward to clean clothes when I return to Indiana in two weeks. A drop in the temperature would also be nice.
Posted By Karin Orr
Posted Jul 30th, 2007