Arson suspected in simultaneous forest fires in western Turkey

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 10.08.2017 00:18
Updated 10.08.2017 00:19
Firefighters spray water to cool off a charred part of the forest.
Firefighters spray water to cool off a charred part of the forest.

Forest fires raged across Mount Ida in western Turkey yesterday as a result of what authorities suspect to be arson as they broke out simultaneously in four close locations

Multiple forest fires gripped Kazdağları (Mount Ida) yesterday in what authorities suspect is a result of an arson attempt. Strong winds and the mountainous territory challenged firefighters who struggled to put out the fires that broke out in four different spots simultaneously in Şahinderesi Canyon located in western Balıkesir province's Edremit district.

The fires follow another blaze in a nearby location on June 30 for which an arson attempt is blamed. Şahinderesi is one of the most scenic locations in the mountain range, which is popular among holidaymakers. Planes, helicopters and fire trucks rushed to the scene to battle the flames. Local authorities said they dispatched a firefighting helicopter in six minutes after the fires broke out and the area affected was limited but strong winds hindered efforts to extinguish the flames.

Soaring temperatures and fires set off by picnic goers are often blamed for forest fires in Turkey that grew in July but arson attempts are not ruled out in some fires, especially in areas popular among tourists. Kazdağları is a national park drawing nature-loving tourists from all across the country and the world.

So far, at least 1,132 forest fires have broken out across Turkey according to the Forestry and Water Affairs Ministry, burning down an area of 6,220 hectares. Recently responding to allegations that the burned forests would be opened for development such as the construction of hotels, Eroğlu said trees were being planted in all burned areas and forests would not be open to construction. Eroğlu said that on the contrary, they increased the number of forests in the past decade and the total space forests cover in Turkey has seen a significant increase, 1.5 million hectares, in the past 13 years. Around 3.7 billion trees were planted between 2003 and 2016.

Turkey, in its region, is among the most successful countries in terms of rapid response to forest fires. A risk map on forests subject to the risk of catching fire enables the fast deployment of firefighters who are able to arrive in 15 minutes to the scene at most according to Forestry Ministry officials. The country employs nearly 20,000 firefighters specialized in forest fires. Minister Veysel Eroğlu says they employ both staff and automated fire surveillance systems to monitor the forests around the clock and the majority of fires are caused by people. Some 60 percent of forested areas are at the risk of fire. Authorities say that about 12.5 million hectares of forests are in areas under imminent risk.

Last month, hundreds of hectares of forest land and scrubs burned down in İzmir, Turkey's third largest city in two days of forest fires that damaged the power lines leading to a dam serving as the city's main water supply.

Turkey has also been gripped by a heat wave this week that increased temperatures by at least 5 degrees above seasonal averages. Temperatures are floating above 30 degrees Celsius and will increase in the coming days. The highest temperature today is 44 degrees in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Temperatures will rise to 33 degrees in Balıkesir today.

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