If you’ve ever been on holiday you’ll know that feeling when your time away is reaching its end. You start to pack your suitcase, remember all the things that are waiting for you at home, start planning your trip to the airport and desperately try to soak up the last of the sun and relaxation before real life hits again. When I went to Croatia earlier this year, the universe had other plans for how our trip would end…
On the final day of our trip, our group had split in two for the day. My friend and I had gone on a speed boat island hopping around Croatia, however two of our group had to stay behind because of boat sickness. I asked Jas what she and Ethan would be doing that day, and she told me in her half asleep state that they might be going to climb a mountain. So naturally, we wished them well and went on our way at the crack of dawn.
The sea and sky had been crystal clear all day and it was sunset when we started heading back to the Port of Split. I was busy watching the sun setting on the sea when the people sat opposite me on our little boat started pointing behind me. I turned around to see what the commotion was about and noticed a massive cloud coming from the direction of Split. I just assumed that the weather was turning and thanked my lucky stars that it was at the end of our trip.
We hadn’t had wifi all day so didn’t really know much of what was going on, but I checked my phone to a message from our landlord warning us that the mountain Jas told him they’d be climbing had gone up in flames and asking where we were. As soon as I had signal again I saw that I had a few missed calls from Jas and Ethan telling us to get back to our apartment ASAP so Ivan and I decided to catch and Uber back, only to get stuck in almost stand-still traffic.
Now we had been staying on the outskirts of town near the mountain that had supposedly gone up in flames, so I was starting to panic about our safety as we approached home. As soon as we were round the corner of our street there was no missing the smoke, and the huge crowd of locals that had gathered together to watch.
To be quite honest, the few hours following us getting out of the taxi was a little bit of a blur. News coverage in Split wasn’t exactly up to date, to say the least, and the last report I had read stated that the fire was out and that there was no reason to panic. Looking on at the mountain first hand, that seemed pretty accurate (then again we couldn’t really see much past the smoke), so we decided the best course of action was to walk back and prepare ourselves for worst case scenario: evacuation.
When we’d gone inside it was almost dark, and there was a tiny flame at the top of the mountain which we assumed would be put out pretty sharpish. By the time we’d organised ourselves half an hour later and gone out to check the latest, the fire had spread to half way down the mountain side and smaller fires were popping up everywhere on the mountains surrounding. By this point the fire had come so close that we were having to breath through damp tea towels with the ash from the fire landing on us.
The next hour and a half was probably the most humbling of my life. The four of us stood on top of a hill we’d found at the end of our road and I was looking on with the locals, some crying for people they knew with homes on the mountain side, just watching the wildfire spreading. We were quite literally watching farming villages burn to the ground; people’s livelihoods, homes, churches, burning away and scattering in the wind. It brought me to tears to witness firsthand the destruction that the fire was causing, looking on as it wiped away decades worth of memories and work.
The magnitude of what was happening seemed to hit the four of us all at once, and we dealt with it in our own ways.. Ivan even attempted hitchhiking to the airport (he decided to abort this mission when we received word that the fire had reached the fuel station right next to it….). Unfortunately, all of these methods were panic induced and none of them very sensible, so eventually we decided at about 3 am to sit tight and wait until we were eventually evacuated if it were to come to that.
The boys had pretty much collapsed into bed after all the stress, so it was left to me and Jas to take shifts staying awake to keep an eye on what was going on for the rest of the night. I took the first shift when Jas had finally managed to get to sleep, and by this point the fire had literally reached the end of our road.
I can safely say that I have never been more scared in my life. It was the most bizarre and unexpected situation that I could’ve landed myself in, and I never for a second imagined my week away would end like that. To think that a fire that blazed for over 28 hours in the end resulted in only one fatality is a miracle in itself; a result that was only achieved due to the colossal effort from both emergency services and locals who volunteered their help.
It is crazy for me to the think that had their bus turned up on time that day, my two best friends would have been climbing the mountain that went up in flames. The universe works in the most mysterious of ways, and even something as simple as a roof over your head can be swiped away from you in seconds if that’s the will of the world. I can safely say I’ve learn to keep my loved ones near and stop focusing on the value of material possessions. Experiences and people are what create a full life.
Until next time,