WAR IN THE BALKANS: British major helps refugees from tent fire

Camp Safety
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The Independent Online
THE LIVES of 22 Kosovan refugees, some of them children, were saved on Wednesday by a British officer who dragged them to safety from a tent on fire. The actions of Major Alistair Mack, who was injured in the process, has been widely praised for preventing the first serious and fatal accident involving the refugees since the exodus began from Kosovo.

Major Mack, 42, repeatedly went back into the blazing tent at the Stenkovic refugee camp in Macedonia, to rescue people. He then helped aid workers to put out the blaze.

The officer, on the staff of the Army's Civil Affairs Group, was burnt on his arms while carrying out the rescues. Aid workers and UN officials stated that it would have been "catastrophic" if the fire had spread through the tented town of 13,000 refugees.Macedonian officials have held a series of meetings to review safety at the camps around the country now holding almost 250,000 dispossessed Kosovars.

Yesterday some of the survivors thanked Major Mack for what he had done. Ighall Tahiri, 36, said: "We were sitting down eating when the fire had started. The major came in and told us that we must all get out. He picked up two children at once and carried them out under his arm - one of them was my six-year-old, Valentine. It was amazing how quickly the fire got hold and the tent collapsed very soon afterwards. If could have fallen on our heads."

Yesterday the major was modest about what he had done. He said: "I knew I had to clear the tent as quickly as possible, and just happened to pick up two small children wrapped in blankets. I carried them out under each arm, like rugby balls, then went back inside to make sure no one else was there. My biggest fear was that someone might have been asleep under blankets and I had missed them.

"In a matter of seconds one side of the tent was well alight and there was smoke and burning debris everywhere. Some of the families were trying to get back in to get their belongings, even though the tent was close to collapsing - I suppose they don't have much. One small boy even tried to go back in to get some food.

"My arm was slightly burnt, but it wasn't that serious. I've two children of my own and I'm sure others would do the same for them in a similar situation. I don't regard myself as a hero."