Iran — With summer well underway, Iranian forests and ranges have fallen prey to blazing fires; fires that in many areas are attributed to the heavy heat but elsewhere can only be linked to negligence and even willful arson aimed at turning trees into ashes. Hundreds of acres of forests have burned down in a short period of time in Fars, Tehran, Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan, Lorestan and Kerman Provinces.
In the biggest fire in recent weeks, a large section of the Estehban Forests in Fars Province burned down. It has been estimated that somewhere between 750 and a thousand acres of forest were destroyed in fires that some officials claim may have been caused by arson. These forests, located in the Todaj Mountains near the Estehban Road to Shiraz, consist of mastic, wild nut and fig trees.
Kazem Bordbar, the head of Fars Province Natural Resources, has raised the possibility of arson, saying accidental fires usually start in one area and spread to others. But he adds that when a fire is stopped in one place and it keeps recurring 200 to 300 metres ahead, foul play is very likely.
Bordbar told ISNA that the motive for burning these forests could involve possible plans to establish private orchards in the region. He added that in the current year, 22 of the 29 cities in Fars Province have been plagued by forest fires. In Kerman Province, more than 40 acres of forest land were burned down, and reports indicate that acres of old-growth forest were destroyed.
In Lorestan Province, more than 50 acres of oak trees burned down within a month, and the head of Crisis Management in the province told ILNA that the Shahansha Forests near Khorramabad have been scarred by three big fires in the past month. He cited severe heat, heavy dust and water shortages as the main contributing factors.
In northern Iran, fires have been reported in unprecedented numbers. The head of Crisis Prevention reports that forest fires are not unusual in the Zagros region in the central and eastern provinces, but they are far more uncommon in the northern forests than what’s been seen this year. In July, 20 acres of Latiyan Park forests in Tehran Province were destroyed by fire.
INSUFFICIENT FACILITIES TO PUT OUT FIRES
Officials and experts report that while the forest fires around the country have been triggered by various factors, in all instances the lack of adequate preventive measures and firefighting capacity helped the fires spread further and burn longer. The head of Crisis Management, Morteza Akbarpour, reports that a new plan for fighting forest fires, which has been forwarded to Parliament, could significantly increase Iran’s firefighting capabilities within five years.
Reza Aryayi, the head of Lorestan Crisis Management, says at least one ranger is required to adequately protect every five acres of forest but, in Lorestan, each forest ranger is responsible for 70 acres of trees.
Kazem Bordbar, the head of Fars Natural Resources, points to the lack of coordination amongst various levels of government in responding to forest fires. He adds that while the province has two million acres of forest land, it does not have any adequate fire engines or even one firefighting helicopter.
Kerman Province also suffers from similar shortages in firefighting capabilities. With no planes or helicopters, it has been impossible to access certain regions struck by raging fires.
This rapid destruction of forests is happening as Iran reportedly suffers one of the world’s highest rates of soil erosion. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reports that Iranian forests are being destroyed at a rapid rate. FAO indicates that Iran is one of 70 developing countries that has very little forest cover.