At present 20.2 million ha of forested land cover 26% of the territory of Turkey, thereof 8.9 million ha (44%) are productive forest. The remaining forest land of 11.3 million hectares (56%) is forest land either with low yield or no yield at all, consisting of degraded coppice, maquis and shrubs. About 99% of the forests in Turkey are State forests. According to the constitution all forests are supervised by the government. As a result of this all forest fire prevention and control activities are under the responsibility of the Forest Service.
Forest fires are considered to be the main destructive factor of Turkish forests. Between 1937, the year in which the first forestry law entered into force, and the end of 1994, 55,485 forest fires occurred, and about 1,432,585 hectares of forest land were burned. 41% of forest fires are occurring in the Aegean, 24% in the Mediterranean, 22% in the Marmara Region and 13% in other regions. Statistical data for the period 1937-1994 are given in Figure 1. Detailed data for the period 1989-1994 are given in Table 1.
Causes of Forest Fires
Approximately 1/4 of the Turkish population is living either within the forest, on the edge of the forest, or at a distance of less than 10 km from the forest. The socio-economic level of the people living in or near the forest is below the average living standard. This is why people would like to use the forest without any limitation for their survival, regardless of laws and regulations being violated. Fires are started for various reasons like acquiring new grazing land, clearing for new farmland, etc.
Tab.1. Forest fire statistics of Turkey for the period 1989-1994
Forest Fires in Turkey 1989-1994
Number of Fires
Area Burned (ha)
This is the reason why 99% of the forest fires in Turkey are caused by humans; only ca. 1% of the recorded forest fires are started by lightning. The origin of about half the human-caused fires is known: 25% are due to negligence, and 26% intentionally set fires. It is assumed that most of the fires with unknown origins are intentionally set fires, including arson.
Environmental conditions influencing the fire danger
The summers of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara regions, characterized by high air temperature and low relative humidity, lead to the reduction of the moisture content of all forest fuels to extremely low levels, thus creating a high wildfire hazard.
In different parts of Turkey two characteristic types of fire season are recognizable:
Short fire season: This is very typical in regions Karadeniz and Marmara. In the Karadeniz region July-August, and in the Marmara region June-August are the peak fire seasons.
Long fire season: The Mediterranean and Aegean regions are typical examples. The fire season lasts about 5-8 months, but some parts of these regions have an all-year long fire season.
Ecological effects of forest fires
According to the research carried out in the various forest fires regions, fire did much damage especially in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions over the centuries. The effect of fires on the soil, microclimate and fauna are other factors that should be regarded in addition to the overall destruction of forests.
In the Mediterranean and also the Aegean regions, there are very few areas that have not been burned between sea level and an altitude of 500 metres. Almost all of the old Calabrian Cluster Pines (Pinus brutia) in these areas have a clear indication of fire on the lower part of their stems close to the roots. As one goes higher in this region, the density of fires decrease, and one can rarely come across burned areas above 1100 meters.
Once destroyed by fire, the natural regeneration of these forests is very sparse. Most burned areas are now covered by brushland. It is for this reason that the burned areas in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions should be afforested instead of allowing further degradation. Otherwise, this would lead to soil erosion caused by heavy rainfall, especially on steep terrain, and thus these areas would turn into calcareous formations.
Forest species threatened by fire
The natural distribution of Pinus brutia forests is along the coastal slopes of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara regions, between sea level and 1250 m altitude. Especially in the higher altitudes of the Mediterranean region Pinus nigra and Cedrus libani accompany the Pinus brutia stands. The maquis formations are also distributed all over the areas. The broadleaved species, especially oak, chestnut and beech, are also present in pure or in mixed stands in these areas. Pinus brutia stands are the most susceptible to fire damage throughout all their lifetime, followed by Pinus nigra and Cedrus libani. Among the broadleaved species oak is the first, and chestnut and beech are the second species influenced by fires in Turkey.
National forest organization and present activities against fires
The Forest Service Turkey is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forest and is responsible for all measures in forest protection, including forest fire prevention and control.
A network of 780 fire detection towers is operating throughout the country, some of them being equipped with solar energy systems. A total of 640 “First Intervention Teams” consisting of 12 to 15 specially trained fire fighters are available for deployment for initial attack. For reinforcement 148 “Ready Force Teams” consisting of 40-50 fire fighters are on standby. Altogether 17,000 fire fighters are organized in these teams.
Until 1985 forest fire suppression was exclusively based on ground-based technologies. Beginning in 1985 aerial fire observation and fire fighting has been introduced. Fixed-wing airplanes (4 Dromader, 1 Cessna) with a capability to drop 800 to 1000 l of water were first used in the most fire-endangered Regional Forest Directorates Izmir and Canakkale, and in a second stage the system was expanded to the Mugla region. Three aerial fire fighting groups consist each of three fire extinguishing planes and one reconnaissance plane (Cessna). The planes are rented from the Turkish Aviation Associations.
Helicopters (3 Ecurel, 3 Dauphin) are currently being used for fire detection and transport of fire fighting personnel at Mugla, Antalya, Izmir, and Canakkale Regional Directorates where close to half (48%) of the forest fires occur in Turkey. An Aviation Group was formed that is attached to the Forest Protection and Fire Fighting Department. Fourteen pilots and seven maintenance personnel are employed under contract for the helicopters.
From:Mehmet Serez Address: Department of Forest Entomology and Forest Protection Faculty of Forestry Karadeniz Technical University TR – 61080 Trabzon