Gallipoli bushfire threat: historian says peninsula is at risk of damaging blaze

Gallipoli bushfire threat: historian says peninsula is at risk of damaging blaze

06 October 2014

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Turkey — The Anzac Day dawn service at Gallipoli. Historian Peter Stanley has raised concerns about the risk of bushfire damage to the peninsula. Photograph: Tasar Yagci/AAP Gallipoli is facing an unprecedented risk of a huge bushfire that could leave the site unrecognisable to visitors wishing to pay their respects to the war dead, an academic has warned.

Prof Peter Stanley, a military historian at the University of New South Wales, said an August visit to the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey had demonstrated that the area was now particularly prone to bushfire.

Grazing has been banned in the national park that encompasses the war memorials at Gallipoli, while large numbers of fire-prone pine trees have been planted in the area.

Stanley said the vegetation had grown so dense that he was unable to make his way to Pifferpore, a site that was used as a camp by Indian gunners during the venerated 1915 offensive that also involved Australia, New Zealand, France, Britain and Newfoundland taking on the Ottoman empire.

The current thick foliage at Gallipoli is starkly different to the way the area looked during the first world war. Combined with the strong winds experienced on the peninsula, the conditions were ideal for bushfires, Stanley said.

Gaba Tepe, the spot where Australian soldiers landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. Historians say the landscape was barer than it is today. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS Gallipoli has experienced fierce bushfires in the past, the most recent being 1994 when Talat Goktete, the area’s forestry supervisor, died while tackling the flames.

“The area is just waiting to go up again,” Stanley told Guardian Australia. “There is a huge amount of fuel for a fire and one thing the Turks don’t do is hazard reduction burning. I checked with an expert there and he said the philosophy is to suppress fire at all costs.”

Stanley said the issue had become a key topic of conversation among historians who regularly visit the Gallipoli site. Some are in favour of a fire, as it could restore the landscape to its previous form, making it easier to understand the flow of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.

Any fire is unlikely to have much of an impact upon the stone war memorials at the site, although commemorative gardens and adjoining farms and orchards could be at risk.

“The whole landscape would be affected, it would absolutely change the way we see Gallipoli,” Stanley said. “The fire could spread and impact lives and property. It could really affect the local economy, which relies on hotels and tour operators.”

A spokesman for Michael Ronaldson, minister for veterans’ affairs, said the matter was one for the Turkish government.

Stanley agreed, adding: “The Australian government has no responsibility for Gallipoli, it’s part of Turkey and we can’t go there and patronise and lecture the Turks. But nothing I’ve seen or heard reassures me about the bushfire risk.”

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