Wildfires in Zagros forests

With the gradual rise in temperatures as summer sets in comes the added risk of wildfires, and on the weekend Iran got a taste of what may be in store in the scorching months ahead.

In two separate incidents on Friday, wildfires incinerated 150 hectares of Zagros Forests in Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad Province and burned 5 hectares in Ilam Province, portending much larger fires in summer, which is expected to be up to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than average.

According to IRIB News Agency, fire broke out in the woodlands around Jozar Village in Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad at 8 a.m. and it took local residents and firefighters 12 hours to put it out.

The fire torched 150 hectares of woodlands and destroyed a variety of tree species, including the Persian turpentine (also called Mt. Atlas mastic), Montpellier Maple, hawthorn, and oaks, which is the dominant species in the Zagros.

The precise cause of the fire is not yet known, but Muhammad Kazem Nazari, governor of Boyerahmad, told the news agency that the most likely cause of the incident was “carelessness of shepherds, tourists, or the local residents.”

With over 87% of its 15,504 km2 area covered in forests and rangelands, Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad is one of the greenest provinces in Iran.

Based on figures released by the provincial office of Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization, in the last year Iranian year that ended in March, more than 1,300 hectares of the province’s forests were turned to ash as a result of wildfires, most of which were caused by human negligence.

Elsewhere in Ilam’s Meleh Gijan region, a heavily wooded area and a popular spot for campers, a small fire lit by visitors ended up burning 5 hectares of the region’s forest.

The fire was ultimately put out by campers who noticed the flames, using whatever they could get their hands on to suppress it, according to news website khabaronline.com.

Located in western Iran, Ilam boasts 640,000 hectares of woodlands, 90% of which is made up of oak trees. Last year, fire wiped out more than 1,850 hectares of the province’s forests.

44,800 Hectares Burned

Fires that frequently incinerate large portions of Iran’s dwindling forest areas inflict upward of 3.2 trillion rials ($94 million) in damages every year.

On average, wildfires destroy 15,000 hectares of woodlands every year. In the last calendar year that ended in March, fires spread through more than 44,800 hectares of forests, irreparably destroying 18,000 hectares.

The Zagros Forests — which cover 6 million hectares, stretching from northwestern to south-central Iran — suffer the most damage.
Last year, more than 200 hectares of wooded areas were burned down across Iran due to tribal disputes leading to clans incinerating portions of forests inhabited by rivals.

“About 95% of all wildfires are caused by humans, around 85% of which are accidental,” according to Khodakaram Jalali, head of the FRWO. Building campfires in drought-hit forests or improperly extinguishing them are the usual causes of accidental manmade wildfires.

To help minimize wildfire damage this year, 32 fire stations have been set up throughout the country, while vulnerable regions have also been equipped with 800 fire brigades and 290 firefighters.

One of the main reasons why wildfires destroy swaths of woodlands is the lack of equipment at the disposal of local authorities.

“The FRWO doesn’t have helicopters to help fight forest fires. To address the problem, we’ve reached an agreement with the Armed Forces of Iran and the Disaster Management Organization to make use of their air fleet,” Jalali said.

The choppers will be stationed in six regions believed to be vulnerable to forest fires, mostly in western regions. It was not immediately clear when the organization plans on stationing the choppers in the designated locations.

By Financial Tribune