Fire Ravages Miankaleh Forests

Officials are certain the fires were manmade and many suspect it was intentional
The extent of damage is uncertain but more than 200 hectares were burned.The extent of damage is uncertain but more than 200 hectares were burned.

Wildfires burning since Aug. 1 swept across more than 200 hectares of forests in Miankaleh Peninsula in Mazandaran Province, inflicting unprecedented damage to the area’s vulnerable wildlife sanctuary.

According to local officials, provincial offices were underequipped to deal with the fires.

“We had sufficient manpower but little else,” Mohammad Zaman Ahmadi, the head of the Department of Environment’s office in Behshahr County, told ILNA.  “We requested a helicopter but our pleas went unanswered.”

Hossein Ali Ebrahimi Karnami, the head of the provincial DOE office, lamented that they didn’t even have bottled water and food to hand out to those affected.

Commending the local residents’ help in taming the flames, he said combating wildfires is the responsibility of park rangers and other relevant entities “who don’t even have basic equipment”.

“A region as vulnerable as Miankaleh needs far better funding for protection,” Karnami added.

The fire started on Tuesday morning and it took local firefighters and residents nearly the entire day to put them out. However, the forest reignited the next day and burned until Saturday.

Officials say the chances of fire erupting again exist, as the region is dry and winds are strong.

“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but more than 200 hectares have been burned,” Karnami said.

He was “certain” that the fire was manmade and investigations are continuing to determine whether it was intentional.

Many believe the fires were caused by owners of illegal marijuana farms, though Karnami said, “it’s too soon to pass judgment”.

Miankaleh is a narrow and long peninsula situated in the extreme southeastern part of the Caspian Sea. It is spread over 68,800 hectares. Its wetland is a wildlife sanctuary and hosts a number of endangered species, particularly aquatic migratory birds who arrive at the site for laying eggs.

Miankaleh Peninsula was registered in 1969 as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In 1979, the peninsula was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

The biosphere reserve’s ecological importance is highlighted by its hosting of 250,000 migratory birds, including pelican, flamingo, graylag and white-fronted geese, swan, red-breasted merganser and the white-headed duck, in winters.



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