Turkey — Turkey saw more damage from forest fires than any other European country in 2008, but is now in much better shape as the country sustaining the least damage in the first half of this year.
While Turkey took its spot in the European Union’s Forest Fires in Europe 2008 report as the country suffering the most damage from forest fires, the nation has seen a record drop so far in 2009. According to data released on Aug. 4 by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 1,558 hectares of forest had been destroyed in fires so far this year. During the same period of 2008, this figure was much higher with a staggering 27,764 hectares of forest being destroyed.
The head of the ministry’s Forestry General Directorate, Osman Kahveci, told Today’s Zaman that between 2003 and 2008 Turkey was the European country most ravaged by forest fires, but this has turned around remarkably so far this year.
Directorate data also reports good news for Turkey when compared to other countries with Mediterranean climates. The directorate says that in the past five years, forest fires in Portugal have scorched 1 million hectares of land, followed by Spain (700,000 hectares), France (122,000 hectares), Italy (445,000 hectares), Greece (364,000 hectares) and Turkey with only 63,000 hectares.
Since 2007, summers in Turkey have been getting hotter as a result of global warming, leading to increased forest fires in the country and placing Turkey higher up on the forest fire damage list. The Forest Fires in Europe 2008 report says that relatively few forest fires burned last year in Europe, but notes that Turkey saw the most damage. Overall, 2008 has been a fairly mild year in terms of the damage caused by forest fires in Europe. The country that was most heavily damaged was Turkey, followed by Greece and Italy, the report notes.
Turkey was the country most severely affected by fires … mapped [using] satellite imagery. The total burnt area mapped was 27,848.33 hectares, the report adds, listing the figures for Greece as 24,573 and 24,449 for Italy. In the list of 17 European countries, a total of 156,449 hectares of forest were destroyed in 2008, according to the report.
Forestry General Directorate head Kahveci says Turkey has become the most successful country when it comes to the management of forest fires. The efforts made by the 11,000 firefighters, 2,500 forestry engineers and 5,000 other workers in the field have produced results, he said, along with the significant contribution made by the 45 firefighting airplanes and helicopters currently in use. In an effort to discover forest fires early and prevent their spread, 54 cameras have been installed in high-risk areas throughout the country in addition to a satellite monitoring system. Every 15 minutes high-risk regions are reviewed, with firefighting authorities receiving updates.
In 2008 there were 2,135 forest fires in Turkey, with five of them burning an area of over 500 hectares and 12 of them burning between 100 and 500 hectares.
2008 was record-breaking year for forest fires
According to information provided by the Forestry General Directorate, the number of forest fires in Turkey has increased in recent years. However, the amount of land destroyed by each of these fires has declined this year, which the directorate attributes to early detection and immediate intervention.
In 2001, 7,394 hectares of forest burned in 2,631 forest fires in Turkey. In 2002, 1,471 forest fires destroyed 8,514 hectares of land; in 2003 there were 2,177 fires destroying 6,644 hectares of forest. In 2004, 1,762 forest fires caused the destruction of 4,876 hectares of land. In 2005 there was a slight improvement, with only 1,530 fires consuming 2,821 hectares. In 2006 the numbers headed back up, with 2,227 fires and 7,762 hectares of land destroyed. The upward trend continued in 2007 with 2,829 forest fires and 11,664 hectares burned. In 2008 the problem hit record levels, with 2,135 fires destroying an astounding 29,749 hectares.
The most forest fires in 2008 happened in July, when 519 fires burned 25,317 hectares of land. August came in second, with 464 fires and 1,813 hectares destroyed.
Rainfall this year has had a positive effect on the record drop in forest fires in Turkey up to Aug. 4. By Aug. 4, 2008, 1,210 forest fires had already ravaged 27,764 hectares of land that year. In comparison, by Aug. 4 of this year, only 859 forest fires had broken out, burning 1,558 hectares of land. The directorate also warns that August is a critical month for forest fires and that all firefighting and fire prevention units will remain on high alert throughout this month.
Damaged land in Seferihisar to be replanted
Land damaged by a fire that broke out in İzmir’s Seferihisar district on Monday will not be used for new construction and will be replanted soon, Seferihisar Mayor Tunç Soyer has said. Recalling that another fire had broken out in the district in 2005 and the land had been replanted, Soyer highlighted that they did not allow people to use the land for their own financial interests and they will not allow it this time either.
Noting that there are allegations that the land was burned for some particular person’s financial aims, the mayor said: We would not let such a thing happen. This is not possible. The area was already a protected zone and a military landing area. That is to say, it is impossible to construct buildings on this land. Keeping the allegations in mind, we will be more careful and replant the land. Soyer further stated that 700 hectares of land are estimated to have been destroyed in the fire. However, the roots of some trees are still burning, and the actual loss will be known after technical calculations. He also said those whose villages and houses were evacuated are back in their houses.
Highlighting that three percent of the district has been destroyed in the fire, Soyer said tourism in the region will be harmed due to the fire since one of the most beautiful spots in the district was scorched in the fire. Soyer further added that the fire broke out due to a mistake made by a shepherd who is most likely uneducated about forest fires and said they want to launch a project aiming to give education to children in order to prevent fires in the future.