Turkey: Forests and Forest Fires in Turkey (IFFN No. 17 – July 1997)


Forests and Forest Fires in Turkey

(IFFN No. 17 – July 1997, p. 15-21)

Turkey is a country with a land mass of 77.079 million hectares, of which 20.199 million hectares is forested, representing about 26 per cent of the country’s total land area. Figure 1 shows the vegetation types found in Turkish forests. The Mediterranean climate is predominant in the southern and western Anatolia where most of the forest fires occur every year. A continental climate with hot and dry summers accompanied by rain in the spring and fall and snow in the winter prevails in central parts. The Black Sea region has a distinct climate type with mild temperatures and precipitation almost uniformly distributed throughout the year.

Forest fires are a recurring phenomenon in, and has always had a pervasive influence on Turkish forests. In the period 1937-1996, a total of 60,434 fires burned a total of 1,464,928 hectares of forest land (Fig.2). This represents 1007 fires on 24,414 hectares annually with an average area burned of 24 hectares per fire. In recent years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of fires, but due to the increased and effective use of technology in transportation, communication and fire suppression, the area burned has been cut in half and kept at a range of 12,000-14,000 ha (Mol and Kucukosmanoglu 1997) on average (Tab.1). The distribution of fires to different regions are as follows: 41% of the fires occur in Aegean; 24% in Mediterranean; 22% in Marmara; and 13% in other regions (Anonymous 1989).

In the Mediterranean and Aegean regions, every place has a unique fire regime or pattern of fire activity resulting from the interaction of many natural and cultural influences. In the past, one of the major causes of forest fires was the use of fire to clear land for agricultural purposes. Although very little effort has been made to determine the fire regime (e.g., Neyisci 1985) in Turkish forests, many areas that are now covered by maquis formation (of mainly shrub species) were created by repeated fires set by people.

There are two major fire seasons in Turkey – short and long fire seasons (Canakc_oglu 1993). These seasons are characterized by the different climate and fuel conditions found in different regions. The short fire season prevails in the western Black Sea and Marmara regions. Depending on the local fuel, topography and fire weather conditions, the fire season may be two (July – August) or three (June – August) months long. The long fire season ranges from June through November in Mediterranean and Aegean Regions. Typically, there is very little winter activity, followed by an increase in May as the rain activity decreases and fuels start to dry up, a peak in the number of fire starts in August, followed by decreasing activity in the fall. Another but less recognized fire season is the spring/fall fire season. This type of fire season is seen in the spring and fall in broad-leaved forests in fire prone regions and in the eastern Black Sea region, one before leaf-out when the last years surface fuels are dried up before the new vegetation period starts and one in the fall after the vegetation period has ended and leaves fallen. Here, surface fuels are the only fuel component that become available for combustion, thus all fires spread as surface fires.

Fire Causes

The majority of forest fires in Turkey are caused by people. People-caused fires account for 98% of all fires, while lightning is responsible for the remaining 2%. Of the people-caused fires 23% was classified as arson, 27% as negligence and carelessness, and 50% as unknown (Mol and Kuçukosmanoglu 1997). “Unknown” fires are the fires for which no known cause could be determined. However, it is very likely that the shares of the first two categories of fire causes (i.e., arson, negligence and carelessness) in unknown causes are similar to that of the known causes. In this case, arson accounts for about 35% of all fires, which is a little over the average value (32 %) found in temperate forests of the northern hemisphere (Mol et. al., 1997). This is definitely a very large proportion and is seriously taken into account in the process of fire prevention, presuppression and suppression planning.


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Fig.1: Map showing vegetation types found in Turkey. Mediterranean, Aegean, Marmara and Western Black Sea regions are susceptible to forest fires (adopted from Davis et al. 1971)


Arson fires are set for several reasons. About 8.8 million people live in 17,445 villages in or near forests (Anonymous 1991). Socio-economic life standards of most of these people are well below the national average. People with low income and low life standards see the forests as an earning ground for their sustenance. So, people set fire in the forest to create jobs that will earn them some provision or manipulate vegetation to improve and produce useful plants for their animals to graze. Personal conflicts between people and forestry officials or between shepherds or different villagers have also been reported to have been a cause for fires.


  Tab.1. Fire statistics for the years 1990 to 1996 in Turkey.









No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

No. of fires

Area burned (ha)

ADANA 67 556.0 87 834.0 99 976.7 161 793.4 206 1590.0 84 223.5 94 1262.5 ADAPAZARI 57 553.3 12 60.0 44 356.8 98 1076.5 178 1449.0 40 156.4 29 186.1 AMASYA 12 35.4 14 81.4 13 107.3 19 84.7 105 374.0 23 42.2 35 47.6 ANKARA 36 108.7 61 283.0 33 49.3 76 217.0 100 124.0 39 29.4 45 49.0 ANTALYA 264 1131.3 241 1056.1 263 2342.7 187 1085.7 122 2246.0 98 319.6 105 309.3 ARTVIN 1 32.0 5 37.0     3 20.0 12 31.0 6 43.1 7 22.0 BALIKESIR 95 2462.5 72 273.5 102 681.2 111 311.7 163 245.0 122 165.7 95 203.7 BOLU 22 69.7 5 6.0 21 53.9 46 114.9 123 133.0 21 15.4 19 13.9 BURSA 56 525.4 32 105.3 68 664.3 114 703.9 110 346.0 51 86.3 51 57.9 CANAKKALE 68 1393.3 49 607.4 109 816.6 114 707.5 108 4342.0 56 364.5 65 815.0 DENIZLI 88 373.6 99 242.1 116 349.4 154 249.9 144 963.0 109 204.4 77 335.4 ELAZIG 11 121.2 16 308.8 4 108.1     3 3.0 5 3.0 9 489.5 ERZURUM 1 0.8     2 1.3 5 35.5 2 3.0 7 12.2 5 16.5 ESKISEHIR 55 102.1 54 68.5 23 157.0 61 138.4 59 339.0 33 60.4 38 56.8 GIRESUN 6 61.1 2 7.2 5 35.7 10 40.4 22 92.0 4 25.3 17 107.7 ISPARTA 21 29.4 35 301.6 57 271.0 57 161.9 76 160.0 70 77.3 44 205.0 ISTANBUL 61 539.5 60 179.8 131 693.2 219 2756.9 182 406.0 72 78.5 106 146.9 IZMIR 259 1244.1 182 490.7 259 1688.3 247 1552.8 335 5146.0 217 813.6 173 762.6 K.MARAS 84 428.0 82 1165.9 86 218.4 103 749.7 152 462.0 114 779.7 103 214.2 KASTAMONU 31 88.3 11 43.6 39 150.8 44 83.5 136 315.0 15 9.2 42 224.3 KONYA         10 37.4 13 36.3 30 138.0 25 14.0 20 105.7 KUTAHYA         69 80.6 103 159.4 133 106.0 75 84.4 57 96.3 MERSIN 103 530.3 54 251.7 91 427.4 159 886.6 123 112.0 99 274.7 73 61.6 MUGLA 304 2535.0 267 1171.3 395 1500.0 357 1464.3 388 1276.0 341 655.5 261 8966.0 SINOP         17 116.8 15 41.9 56 111.0 22 58.2 28 49.7 S. URFA         14 288.7 13 8.8 30 336.0         TRABZON 1 0.4 2 9.0 5 105.0 5 50.2 18 10.0 14 192.5 12 83.0 ZONGULDAK 22 78.9 6 6.1 35 34.3 53 202.6 105 111.0 6 1.0 35 33.5 TOTAL 1725 13000.3 1448 7590.0 2110 12312.2 2547 13734.4 3221 20982.0 1768 4790.0 1645 14921.7


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Fig.2. Forest fire statistics of Turkey for the period 1936-1996.


Borders separating public and private lands are not completely drawn in Turkey. Only in 30% of the country’s total area are the ownership boundaries delineated. So, there are always ownership disputes and conflicts in and around forests and protected areas. People take advantage of this situation to increase their properties to the disadvantage of public forests.

Recently, forests have also received their share of terrorism. A number of fires have been reported to have been set by terrorist groups or individuals. A majority of fires, however, are often caused by people through sheer inadvertence or accident. These types of fires usually occur in and around recreation areas and camp sites or along major highways. In 1996, for example, the greater Marmaris forest fire which burned over 7000 hectares had its origin at a camp site near Marmaris (see Fig.3). Fires of this kind are usually caused by people who are unaware of the dangers of forest fires or by those with a low awareness of the value of forests.

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Fig.3. The Greater Marmaris Fire of 1996 burned a total of 7079 ha. The photograph shows a yard where salvage-loggedtimber is stored temporarily and distributed. Photo: J.G.Goldammer.


Fire Management

Fire management in Turkey is a federal responsibility. Duties are carried out by state forest enterprises functioning under regional directorates. Fire control policies have developed around a strong emphasis on total fire control as a response to destructive fires. Regardless of the high costs involved, all required activities are planned and implemented immediately. However, the beneficial use and ecological role of fire has at no time been incorporated into the fire management planning process. Fire management therefore deals mainly with activities concerning prevention and control.

Fire prevention programmes deal with all activities concerned with minimizing the incidence of forest fires. In this regard, determining and analyzing the cause of fires (i.e., who is starting the fires, where and when they are started and, to the extent possible, why they are started) are considered to be the first steps to justifying and allocating the budget for prevention and presuppression. For this reason, the Fire Fighting and Forest Protection Branch of the General Directorate of Forestry has put more emphasis on the determination of fire causes and the inclusion of the findings in fire report files. A national database on forest fires is being created containing information on all aspects of forest fires. Information gathered on location along with the cause of fires are used to develop fire prevention techniques and prevention planning. In this regard, many techniques are being used to reduce people-caused fires which fall under two general categories, risk abatement and hazard reduction.

Risk is associated with ignition, and risk abatement involves raising the level of awareness of the general public and various accountable groups to the dangers of ignition and subsequent forest fires through education and enforcement. It is the opinion of the forestry service that a strongly favourable public opinion is a vital necessity in any effort to reduce the number of people-caused fires. All available communication avenues have increasingly been utilized for this purpose. These involve the utilization of mass media and local media outlets of radio, television, newspaper and magazines, education programs in the schools, military bases, service clubs, signs, and personal contacts. Also, fire law enforcement has been a potentially valuable technique for forest fire prevention since the laws have a potential to educate the public as well as to deter the negligent or malicious from destructive behaviour.

Given that a majority of fires are caused by sheer inadvertence and accident, no matter how good the education and enforcement activities may be, some fires will always be unpreventable. These causes can be reduced only through modifications of the ignition sources or the fuels that act as ignition receptors. Many forms of fuel modifications have been practice in all fire prone areas.

Despite the high cost of construction and maintenance, fire breaks (fire safety roads) and fuel brakes have been widely used to brake the continuity of forest fuels. It is interesting to note that when the planned fire brake network is completed, the forest area cleared to create fire brakes will amount to 5% of the total forest area (currently it is about 3%), and that the total area burned since 1937 is about 7% of the total forest area. This is also practice along and around the high risk areas such as camp grounds, disposal sites, settlements, major highways and railroads. Although very labour intensive, the practice of clearing and burning surface fuels along major highways within 15-20 m on each side of forest stands is a usual one.

As a general rule, fire breaks are constructed in plantation and naturally regenerated areas, and are supported by some fire resistant species (especially Cupressus sempervirens var. pyramidalis). These species are planted, with up to five rows, along the fire breaks. In areas close to settlements or critical areas, such species as stone pine (Pinus pinea) have been heavily utilized (planted) in place of other species. The local people look after these areas by pruning the trees and clearing underneath them and harvesting their cones. This practice not only helps to maintain an important fire resistant zone but it also provides an opportunity for the local people to make a living. One other activity worth mentioning concerns the fuel modifications is the charcoal production where some bush species that would not normally be harvested or utilized are used (Serez et. al. 1997; Fig.4-6). Those who produce charcoal purchase the wood they cut for a very low price (about 1/10 of what they sell charcoal for). Again, this benefits both forests and people.


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Fig.4-6. Charcoal making in Turkey is an integrated management measure. The construction of fuelbreaks alongside forest roads and highways involves clearing of small-size brush fuels which are suitable for charcoal production. Charcoal-making permits are issued to villagers and provide not only additional income: the participation and involvement of the rural population in the forest sector increases their active participation in forest fire prevention. Photos: J.G.Goldammer.


Fire Pre/suppression

Fire management relies on early detection, fast initial attack and powerful suppression. Each region has been provided with sufficient resources and man-power to combat forest fires. Available resources include 135 fire trucks, 12 helicopters, 11 airplanes, 882 fire look-out towers, 8472 radios, 650 initial attack crews (of 12-15 men), and 120 standby forces (of 40-50 men). New resources are being added as needed and new technologies adopted. These forces are allocated to each district based on fire danger levels and the area in question. Overall, 71% of fires are controlled at less than 5 hectares and account for only 8% of the area burned. In contrast, only 1% of fires exceed 200 hectares in size, but these fires account for 37% of the total area burned (Kucukosmanoglu 1986).

Fire Research

Fire is one of the areas that has received the least attention in Turkey. There have been no major studies concerning fire ecology or the role of fire in Turkish forest ecosystems. Recently, however, attempts have been made to establish a national fire danger rating system. Initial work has been completed and weather measurements will soon begin. The Turkish Fire Weather Index System will be developed based on the litter moisture and weather measurements in a standard fuel type (red pine, Pinus brutia). Fire behaviour experiments will be conducted later in the season. Results of the experiments will constitute the first steps towards achieving the goal of developing the fire behaviour prediction system. Also, the use of Geographical Information Systems in fire management is being increasingly utilized. These recent developments have been the result of a genuine cooperation between Karadeniz Technical University and the General Directorate of Forestry.


Forest fires have a major impact on the sustainability on Turkish forests. With its complex social, economical and environmental aspects, Turkish forestry presents great challenges to the society in general and the forest service and fire researchers in particular. Fire policies were formulated in such a way as to exclude fire on the assumption that it is always bad. Today, however, pressures brought about by certain realities of ecology and economics, and our increased demands for multiple resources require the development of new policies and attitudes towards fire. At the same time, increasing complexity and sustainable forestry will require a deeper understanding of fire and the development of more effective management systems. Effective management systems will not prove successful unless they include the demands and acknowledge the role of the society on forests.


Anonymous. 1989. The Turkish Forestry in the 150th year of its establishment. General Directorate of Forestry, Publ. No. 673, Serial No: 30. Ankara.

Anonymous. 1991. Orman Raporu (Report on Forestry). TUSIAD Yayin No. TUSIAD-T/91, 6.144 57 p.

Canakcioglu, H. 1993. Orman Koruma <Forest protection> (Text book). Universite Yayin No. 3624, Fakulte Yayin No. 44.1, 633 pp.

Davis, P.H., P.G. Harper, and I.C. Hedge. 1971. Plant life of South-west Asia. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 335 pp.

Kucukosmanoglu, A. 1986. Turkiye ormanlarinda cikan yanginlarin siniflandirilmasi ile buyuk yanginlarin cikma ve geli_me nedenleri <The classification of fires in Turkish forests>. Istanbul Universitesi, Orman Fakultesi Dergisi, Seri A, Cilt 36, Say 1.

Mol, T., and A. Kucukosmanoglu. 1997. Forest fires in Turkey. In Proc. XI. World Forestry Congress, Antalya, Turkey (in press).

Neyi_ci, T. 1985. Antalya doyran yoresi kizilcam (Pinus brutia Ten.) ormanlarinda yanginlarin tarihsel etkileri <Historical role of fire on red pine (Pinus brutia Ten.) forests of Antalya Doyran region>, Ormancilik Arastirma Enstitusu Yayinlari, Teknik Rapor Seri No. 29, p.67-91.

Serez, M., E. Bilgili, M. Eroglu, and J.G. Goldammer. 1997. Bati Anadolu ormanlarinin yanginlara karsi korunmasi, alinmasi gereken onlemler ve teklifler <Prevention measures and suggestions for the protection of Bati Anadolu forests>. Final report, Ministry of Forestry, OGM and Karadeniz Teknik Universitesi. 34 pp.



From: Ertugrul Bilgili
Karadeniz Technical University
Faculty of Forestry
TR – 61080-Trabzon

Fax: ++90-462-325-7499
e-mail: bilgili@osf03.bim.ktu.edu.tr


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