Syrian conflict threatens Turkish forests

Published 07.09.2017 01:59

Turkey is vigilant with regard to the prevalent threat of forest fires from Syria where a six-year-old conflict still rages. The civil war in its southern neighbor with whom it shares a lengthy border, kept Turkey alert as bombings and airstrikes are often followed by forest fires, especially in less populated areas north of Syria.

Crews from the forests authority work around the clock to keep a close watch on fires on the other side of the border to prevent their spillover to the Turkish side. Authorities say some 60 hectares of forests burned in 44 fires in the provinces of Hatay and Kilis, bordering Syria. This year, only one hectare of land was damaged in six forest fires that spilled over from Syria.

Alpaslan Altındaş, head of the local forests authority whose crews watch the border for fires, said they do risk analyses to prevent the spillover of fires and deploy bulldozers and other equipment all the time along the border for rapid response to fires. "We cleared areas with the potential risk of catching fire ahead of the summer, and our crews are always on alert. Faster responses stop those fires from hitting Turkey as well," he says. The Yayladağı district of Hatay province is at particular risk as it has more forests than other towns along the border. Lawlessness on the Syrian side and a lack of qualified firefighters make Syrian forests more vulnerable to growing fires. Altındaş told Anadolu Agency that a security wall Turkey was building along the border significantly helped to stop forest fires from Syria spreading to Turkey.

Turkey, in its region, is among the most successful countries in terms of rapid response to forest fires. A risk map of forests subject to the risk of catching fire enables the fast deployment of firefighters who are able to arrive in 15 minutes at most to the scene according to Forestry Ministry officials. The country employs nearly 20,000 firefighters that specialize in forest fires.

The ongoing conflict in Syria sporadically affects Turkey. Last year, Turkish border towns were hit by a string of rocket attacks from Daesh-controlled areas in northern Syria. The attacks died down after Turkey started military operations to back Syrian opposition fighters against the terrorist group.

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