Georgia: Forests are still burning in Georgia 21 August 2008
Up to 280 hectares (692 acres) of forests have been burnt or are alight in Georgia after its conflict with Russia, the WWF said on August 20, warning that key conservation areas were under threat.
According to IFP, the fires are centered in the Borjomi-Kharagauli area, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of the strategic city of Gori, some 60 kilometers from the Georgian capital Tbilisi .
Georgia’s foreign ministry had said on 16th of August, that the Borgomi Gorge area had been targeted by Russian helicopters dropping firebombs in a dozen locations.
Some fires have also been reported inside the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, about 125 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Tbilisi .
The source of Borjomi mineral water — one of Georgia’s top exports — is located in the park, IFP reports.
Russian defence ministry spokesman was quoted by state news agency RIA Novosti saying that Russia had “nothing to do with the forest fire in Borjomi”, and that they were ready to help the Georgians douse the flames if asked.
Turkish pilots flying low level to dodge air defence radars water-bombed forest fires burning in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountain region, despite a Russian army threat to shoot down aircraft not clearing flight plans with Moscow first, Georgian officials said on August 21.
Monstersandcritics (M&C) announces, that it was a peculiar and quite possibly extremely dangerous mission for the aircraft, three little Canadian-built water bomber planes belonging to Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and the Istanbul city government, as the ‘scoopers’ carried water from Turkey’s Kars region through Russian-controlled air space.
‘But we could not have got the forest fires under control without them,’ said Irakli Gvalidze, Georgia’s Minister of Forestry and Environmental Protection in an interview. ‘Without those Turkish pilots helping with the Borjomi fires, we could have had an environmental disaster.’
According to M&C, Russian army officers speaking in Moscow scoffed, pointing out their forces already were demolishing Georgian military and transportation infrastructure at will, so why bother burning trees? The Russian air force helicopters were merely inspecting the fires to make sure Russian troops weren’t threatened, Kremlin officials said.
Georgia’s government the next day, Aug. 21, announced it had arranged with Turkey to fly water bomber aircraft (planes that scoop up water from a lake and then drop it on a fire) but Moscow would not approve flight plans.
Colonel General Anatoliy Nagovitsyn, vice head of Russia’s army general staff said neither the Georgians nor the Turks had even asked about flying into Russia-controlled airspace.
Turkish diplomats confirmed the flights had taken place, and that Turkey had coordinated the firefighting operation with Georgia, not Russia.
‘Turkey has assisted other countries in fire-fighting before, this is normal for us,’ said Ufuk Bey, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman. He said he was not aware of how precisely the Turkish aircraft avoided Russian anti-aircraft guns and missiles.
‘There was no interference from the Russians,’ Bey said.
‘Those Turkish pilots, they are Georgian heroes,’ Gvalidze said. ‘I don’t know their names, but they are brave men, and they have done a great thing for my country.’
The Borjomi fires by the weekend had converged, engulfing an estimated 250 square hectares of forest, M&C reports.
UNEP, UNEP-OCHA, OSCE and GFMC are monitoring the situation.
Recent impressions of the fires burning in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
NACRES Appeal New “weapon” Against Georgia – Forest Fires. NACRES Appeal to the International Community 16 August 2008
In addition to killing civilians, attacking and destroying both military and civilian infrastructures the Russian military are now trying to cause an ecological disaster in Georgia.
According to eyewitnesses Russian military helicopters around 12.30 p.m. 15th August dropped some sort of flammable substances into the Borjomi forests in a mountainous central part of the country that is internationally recognised as having a great significance to the global biodiversity. The area has one of the most popular spa and ski resorts of the former Soviet Union and is famous for its mineral waters. Most importantly the site is located at least 100 km away from the South Ossetia conflict zone.
A Borjomi national park official told us this afternoon that fires simultaneously broke out in multiple spots in and around the Borjomi national park shortly after Russian military helicopters were seen flying over the area. The park administration has managed to contain all seats of fire within the national park. But elsewhere in the area and especially near village Tsemi, fires are burning out of control. Several hundreds of hectares of precious forest have already been destroyed and fires are now approaching human settlements.
While Georgian authorities and volunteers try their best to contain forest fires, we urge international community and especially environmental groups and conservation organizations (especially those based in Russia) to call upon the Russia’s Government to immediately stop this and other inhumane actions in and against Georgia.
Note: NACRES is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization, founded in 1989. Its mission is to safeguard the biodiversity of Georgia and the South Caucasus, through conservation activities at national and local levels, based on sound science, sustainability principles and local participation. In 2004, NACRES requested assistance from Fauna & Flora International to train its staff and support their institutional development. NACRES website:
Statement of the Ministry of Environment Protection and Natural Resources of Georgia, 18 August 2008
To all Foreign Diplomatic Representations in Georgia To UNDP To OSCE To USAID To KfW To PAN Parks Organization To the World Bank To the GEF To IUCN International To WWF International To CENN To GCCW
The Ministry of Environment Protection and Natural Resources of Georgia urgently tries to attract the attention of all relevant international organizations to the dramatic situation created in Georgia with regard to the forest burning in several regions of the country as a result of Russian bombing, particularly in Borjomi region, where unique forests are burning creating danger also to Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park which is situated in immediate proximity to these forests.
On August 15, after the attack of Russian military forces’ helicopters, fire started in the Borjomi region forests affecting some part of Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. Since Saturday (August 16) we have been trying to put out the fire in Borjomi region forests, but almost 200 ha of unique forest is already burnt. The aim was to create an ecological catastrophe in the country.
All local recourses: fire brigades, Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park stuff, Environment Inspectorate and local communities are involved in putting out the fire. The situation is quite dramatic since fire has caused great losses in biodiversity.
Since the morning of the eighteenth of August fire fighting aircraft from Turkey are already assisting to put out the fire. While the Ukraine and Azerbaijan, both are ready to do the same. Fire engines and fire brigades from Tbilisi are ready to enter the region, but highway from the capital of Georgia to Gori-Borjomi direction is under the Russian military forces control.
To avoid ecological catastrophe in the region we are calling all interested organizations’ attention to react to the situation in Borjomi region.
The Ministry is asking for your help to convince Russian to open air and terrestrial corridor, which would let fire fighting aircraft, fire engines and fire brigades enter the Borjomi District and make possible putting out the fire there.