Bitola Still Holds Leftover Minefields from World War I

Novaci Municipality will start demining areas, that hold old bombs and grenades left over from World War I, in the Mariovo region where the Salonica Front had passed during the war, reports.

The Mayor Lazar Kotevski announced that two trails which are 6 km long and 60 meters wide will be cleared of unexploded devices. One is a walking trail, the other is a bike trail, and they connect the villages Budimirci, Gradesnica and Stavrina. These trails are intended for tourist use in the future.

"The action will be carried out over the next 15 months as a part of the 'Living History, Living Nature' project, in collaboration with the Almopia municipality, financed by IPA program funds. The old bombs pose a real threat in the Novaci region and we often get complaints that bombs are found during construction or agricultural digging", said Kotevski.

Life alongside Live Bombs

Sights such as fences  decorated with unexploded grenades, grenade shells used as vases at village cemeteries and grenades peeking out of river beds are not unusual in the Mariovo villages of Gradesnica, Staravina, Budimirici and Skocivir.

Locals have been digging up bombs and grenades for so long that they have learned to live with them.

It is no secret that close to the old cave called Zmejova Dupka or Dragon Hole near the Gradesnica village there is an active minefield  leftover from World War I.

While in Novaci, during water supply construction work, a whole stockroom of over 300 grenades was discovered.

"A detailed demining of the area is necessary in the future, for which the municipality will have to apply with projects in European funds. The unexploded devices can cause catastrophes, especialy in the summer period when there are higher risks of fire. Three years ago, a part of Kajmakcalan was under fire and nobody could put it out. The explosions of the bombs and grenades made it seem like a war zone, even the air tractors gave up on putting out the fire", said Kotevski.

Unexploded bomb risks lurk in other parts of the Bitola region as well. Bitola's walking area use to lay on an arsenal of 200 old grenades which were removed during construction. Fifty grenades were found in the foundations of a house in the Bitola area and 24 unexploded aerial bombs were found in a scrap metal clearance station.

Even  the sites where mines of the Mining and Energy Combine (REK) are located were filled with grenades. Excavators still dig up bombs from time to time. There were cases where bombs were transported by trucks to the Thermal Power Plant along with the coal.

Around a Hundred Tons of Explosives Were Removed

"We appeal to those that will come across unexploded devices not to touch them and to immediately inform the Protection and Rescue Directorate. Some of them can be dangerous and they can contain poison.  In the last 45 years an average of 2-3 unexploded devices are removed daily from the Bitola area", Gjorgi Stefanov, an expert pyrotechnician at the Protection and Rescue Directorate said.

Until now he has removed hundreds of exploding devices. According to Directorate data, in the last 45 years approximately  86,000 unexploded devices weighing around 100 tons were found in the Bitola area.

There are more to be found. During world War I, Bitola was the second most bombarded city after Verdun.


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