Blaze contained but fire risk smolders on in Mersin

Blaze contained but fire risk smolders on in Mersin

12 July 2008

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Turkey — A forest fire sparked in the Mersin area on Sunday afternoon was brought under control on Wednesday, but local officials remain concerned storms forecast in the south Anatolian province could fan the remaining embers into a second blaze.

In the forestland near Mersin’s Gülnar district, “abnormal” storms have been observed that can reach speeds in excess of 100 kilometers per hour. Nurettin Doğan, an official from the Forestry Directorate, said they were anxious about a forecast storm due to strike on Thursday or Friday (today). “Embers lying underneath the ashes may be unearthed by storms,” he cautioned.

Mersin Governor Hüseyin Aksoy said it was too early to say whether the fire had been completely extinguished, but noted that those whose homes were damaged would be granted YTL 3,000 to meet their basic needs.

“We will provide financial help for those whose animals perished in the fire. The aid will continue as damage assessments are conducted,” Aksoy said.

The governor added: “In one village in particular, the houses are now uninhabitable. In other villages, there are people whose homes and agricultural products were damaged in the fire. A committee has been formed to conduct a damage assessment. The Ministry of Public Works and Settlement will continue working on new houses to be built for citizens who homes were damaged in the disaster.” The food needs of the fire victims have been met by the state and aid organizations, the governor noted.

Noting that many aid organizations and state institutions had mobilized resources to help locals affected by the fire, Aksoy said State Minister for Foreign Trade Kürşad Tüzmen and Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu had made visits to the area. “Fund drives have been started by the Gülnar District Administration. Those who would like to provide financial support to the fire victims can donate through the Yangın Afetzede Yangın Hesabı (Fire Victims’ Aid Fund). In addition, those who would like to donate food or clothing can contact the coordination center organized by Deputy Governor Ahmet Soley,” Aksoy said.

Cost of damage
The three-day fire destroyed 1,000 hectares of forest composed of red pines, most of which were 25-30 years old. Taking the monetary value of 1,000 hectares of red pine land, the financial loss reaches at least YTL 15 million.

Within the consumed forestland, there were also red pines of 40-50 years old, which are at their highest values at that age. It was not only forest that burned in the fire; 12.4 million square meters of agricultural land were consumed by the blaze, mostly fruit crops, in damage estimated to run to millions of lira.

Water dumps from helicopters and airplanes also cost thousands: the helicopter-based help costs $6,400 per hour, for a plane the figure is $10,000. Some firefighting equipment was also damaged in the fire.

WWF Turkey speaks out
The World Wide Fund Turkey (WWF Turkey) released a press bulletin yesterday. Forest fires in the Mediterranean region caused by negligence and ignorance were particularly unacceptable at a time when the world is threatened by climate change, WWF Turkey noted.

Of the total forest fires in Turkey ever, 94 percent are caused by humans. The remaining 6 percent of Turkish forest fires were caused by natural means, like lightning. The responsibility to fight fires falls not just upon the Forestry Directorate but also society as a whole, the bulletin noted. WWF Turkey also urged for the practice of stubble burning, carried out after the harvesting of cereal crops, to be abandoned and suggested the use of deterrent fines to this end.

The group also highlighted that global warming may extend the forest fire season as some areas suffer from decreased precipitation and elevated temperatures, noting that officials must take precautions accordingly. According to the WWF Turkey overhead power-cables should be rerouted underground; levels of educated staff and firefighting equipment must be increased; and villagers living in and around forested areas must be educated.

Settlements, agricultural land and tourism facilities pose the greatest risk in terms of forest fires, WWF Turkey noted.

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