When a local crowd saw Özkan Özbedel holding a blowtorch and starting a fire in an area near a massive forest fire, they immediately jumped to conclusions and thought he was an arsonist. Özbedel was pushed, shoved and faced insults and his photo with blowtorch in hand was soon viral on social media where he was accused of being "a saboteur," though he was wearing a uniform indicating he was an official.
Indeed, Özbedel is the director of the Forest Fire Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and he was in the western city of İzmir to help fight a fire that devastated 500 hectares of land. What he was doing with the blowtorch was actually "counter-firing," a method used to curb the growth of forest fires. It involves starting a small fire from a distance to a wildfire, to create a fire-break or a spot with nothing to fuel the fire, thereby, stopping it from spreading.
Özbedel says he was worried that people thought he was "a terrorist" although he shrugged off the incident. "I have been in this job for 25 years and I never did something that would be treason to my country," Özbedel told İhlas News Agency (IHA) yesterday. A veteran of the forest firefighting department, he has worked to contain forest fires all across Turkey and was in İzmir to extinguish the fire that lasted for three days and affected three districts of İzmir. "The fire spread to a very large area. One day before [the incident], me and the other firefighters saved 60 villages in the path of the fire with counter-firing," he said.
"People in the last village apparently misunderstood what I was doing and attacked me. I don't feel hatred against them. I tried to respond to their assault calmly and go on my own way," Özbedel says. Several villagers carrying sticks tried to beat him before gendarme troops intervened.
Mehmet Çelik, deputy director of ministry's Forestry Directorate, said Özbedel and his crew saved the houses of his assailants from the forest fire.