Advent of summer carries forest fires back to agenda

Advent of summer carries forest fires back to agenda

19 June 2008

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 The fire season began in the Menemen district of western İzmir Tuesday afternoon after a farmer set fire to an area to clear it of weeds.

With the arrival of sweltering summer weather, forest fires have once more started to occupy the national agenda. The fire season began in the Menemen district of western İzmir Tuesday afternoon after a farmer set fire to an area to clear it of weeds and the blaze burgeoned out of control.

The fire scorched nearly 200 hectares and was fully extinguished on Wednesday with the efforts of 300 forest rangers, five air tankers and six helicopters. Difficult terrain and winds helped the fire spread over a wide area in just a brief time.

According to the Anatolia news agency, three people who were trying to extinguish the fire were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and the farmer was taken into custody for questioning. Soon after the fire in Menemen was extinguished, another one broke out yesterday afternoon in the tourist resort of southern Antalya’s Göynük area.

Dozens of fire rangers were supported by trucks and helicopters in their efforts to control the fire. Sources said steep cliffs and undulating terrain in the mountainous area made it difficult to fight the fire. Efforts were still underway to extinguish the fire, whose cause was unknown, when Today’s Zaman went to press. Tuesday and Wednesday’s fires prompted officials to remind individuals about fire safety measures.

Provincial Director of Forestry and Environment Ya?ar Eser called on farmers to be extra cautious while clearing their fields. “Setting areas on fire to clear them of brush damages not only the soil but also forested lands. It is quite easy for flames to jump to forested areas. With the help of strong winds, fires extend across broad areas in a very short time and result in unrecoverable damage. People should be very careful not to upset the ecologic balance,” he said.

Eser recalled that there was a 40 percent increase in forest fires last year. “Around 11,000 hectares were devastated in more than 2,800 forest fires all across Turkey in 2007,” he stated. Prolonged periods of drought have increased the risk of destructive wildfires, as forests are often in tinder dry conditions and thus more susceptible to more intense fires.

He also noted that 45 farmers received fines totaling YTL 97,237 for causing forest fires while trying to clear their fields. “Such irresponsible acts endanger the earth’s balance. We should inform our public about forest fires and call on them to be more cautious,” he noted.

Professor Ertuğrul Bilgili from the department of forestry of Karadeniz Technical University (KTÜ) told Anatolia that around 95 percent of forest fires are caused by humans. “Forest fires ruin thousands of hectares of forested areas. They threaten forests, which are our national wealth, and result in loss of life,” he said.

Bilgili, noting that Turkey has around 21.2 million hectares of forested area, stated that almost half of them are situated in zones which are susceptible to fires.

“Five percent of forest fires are caused by natural factors such as lightning, and the remaining 95 percent are caused by humans. While around 12-15 percent of forest fires resulting from human action are started on purpose, such as arson, almost half of all forest fires are the result of negligence. When you examine the causes of these fires, you will find that they are related to all sorts of social, economic and cultural factors. This situation is one that is very important to understand in terms of setting up plans to prevent these fires. In this sense, the planning of forest fire prevention and protection must take place within not only areas vulnerable to forest fires, but also while keeping in mind the social, economic and cultural needs and expectations of the locals living in these areas,” he said. Bilgili also praised the efforts of firefighting staff to prevent and combat forest fires in recent years.

Minister of Environment and Forestry Veysel Eroğlu, on the other hand, told Today’s Zaman yesterday that his ministry has taken comprehensive measures to prevent forest fires in 2008.

“A team of experts will pay visits to 3,500 villages across the country to inform villagers about forest fires. Forest rangers who have been armed with the necessary equipment to combat fires will be posted at 775 observation towers to spot even the smallest fires. Our ministry has trained 20,000 forest rangers in firefighting, and they will be assisted by the army in their efforts to extinguish fires,” he said.

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