6,400 Hectares of Forests Burn in 5 Months

6,400 Hectares of Forests Burn in 5 Months6,400 Hectares of Forests Burn in 5 Months

Five months into the current Iranian year (started March 21) and it has already proven to be a hot, unbearable year for environmentalists.

In addition to the usual problems, such as dwindling water resources, high pollution levels and dust storms, wildfires must now be added to the long list of environmental problems plaguing Iran.

Quoting the head of the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization, Khodakaram Jalali, local media report that between March 21 and July 21, about 6,438 hectares of forests across the country have burnt in 786 cases of wildfires this year.

That figure has surely gone up—possibly doubled—since at least 37 counts of forest fires have been reported since July 21.

According to Jalali, this year has seen a 23% rise in the number of wildfires compared with the same period of last year.

At the beginning of the year, experts warned that due to the worsening drought and scorching summer heat, Iran faced a higher risk of forest fires. Despite the warnings, wildfires have been wreaking havoc on the country’s ancient woodlands, destroying wildlife and threatening the livelihood of communities that depend on forests.

So, why is nothing being done?

  Triple Threat

Experts agree on three main factors that have exacerbated Iran’s wildfire problem: carelessness, slow response and lack of equipment.

The Persian daily Sharq quoted Jalali as saying 95% of all forest fires are caused by human negligence.

Building campfires in drought-hit forests or improperly extinguishing them are the usual causes of manmade wildfires. Deliberately setting forests on fire has also been known to happen in rare cases.

A glaring shortcoming in curbing wildfire is the regional fire department’s lack of aircraft. Aerial firefighting–use of aircraft and other aerial resources to combat wildfires–is one of the most important techniques used in fighting forest fires.

Due to their topography, many regions are not accessible by fire trucks, necessitating the use of aircraft to combat fires.

Following a massive wildfire in Ilam Province in June, Emad Salamat of the provincial FRWO said, “There is not a single helicopter in western Iran capable of fighting wildfires.”

Due to the local fire department’s lack of equipment, firefighters and untrained civilians had to rush into the heart of the forest to put out the rampant fire, a risky move that could have resulted in loss of lives.

Slow response of organizations well-equipped to tackle wildfires is another issue worth mentioning. Take for instance the wildfire that devoured 808 hectares (some estimate the scale to be far greater) of Kouhdasht Forest in Lorestan Province two weeks ago.

A helicopter carrying 40 tons of water was dispatched to the region three days after the fire had erupted, but due to the scale of the fire and the heat it generated, the chopper could not get close enough.

Speaking to Tasnim News Agency, Mehrdad Baharvandi, the head of the provincial FRWO, blamed the slow response on needless paperwork and said, “Had the chopper been sent on the first day of the fire, we could have prevented a lot of damage.”

  Deafening Silence

In an exclusive report, Mehr News Agency rapped relevant bodies for their mysterious silence and said people’s patience is running out.

Fed up with the officials’ lack of transparency, people have had to voice dismay online by “swarming social media accounts” linked to top environmental officials in search of answers.

 Authorities have said the provinces of Fars, Khuzestan, Lorestan, Kurdestan, Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad and Kerman are most at risk for wildfire damage, but no official statistics regarding the severity of damage to these regions in the past five months have been divulged.

  It Takes a Village

There is no denying that wildfires are a natural phenomenon, but when 95% of all forest fires in Iran are, in one way or the other, caused by humans, the issue requires serious measures.

Care for natural resources, especially forests, must be acculturated. Many a wildfire has been instigated by negligent behavior and it is up to NGOs and government bodies to take measures to ensure people understand the importance of forests and the dangers they face.

Equipping regional fire departments is another measure that helps curb wildfires. Lack of equipment exacerbates the scale of forest fires to the point where not even helicopters can help manage them.

President Hassan Rouhani has called his administration the government of environment, so it serves to reason to expect it to play a far more active role in preserving the country’s natural resources.