Hundreds of hectares of Turkey’s woodland were set alight by the PKK last week. But this is not the first time the terror group has been linked to such wildfires.
It was a Thursday afternoon when a fire flicked its fury on Turkey’s Dalaman forest land, engulfing 350 hectares of naturally grown pine trees. Fire whirls ripped through to the nearby region of Fethiye. The resin in the pine trees helped spread the orange flames quickly and took at least 17 hours to cool down - the fire was extinguished just after dawn on July 12.
The forest was a tinderbox with the 40km-per-hour winds and the 39C temperature only serving to act as a catalyst for a greater and intense spread of the fire. It took “19 helicopters, 109 street sprinklers, and more than 500 personnel,” to extinguish the inferno, Associate Professor Turkay Turkoglu at the Mugla Sitki Kocman University told TRT World.
More than 250 animals were evacuated from the forest, a local source told TRT World.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU, later claimed responsibility for the fires. But this is not the first time the PKK has been linked to forest fires - they have previously claimed responsibility for fires in Izmir, Hatay and the Aegean and Mediterranean region.
And earlier this year, the PKK's Syrian wing, YPG, set fire to agricultural land in Syria, after farmers refused to sell their produce to them. Hundreds of hectares of land in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa went up in smoke, destroying future harvest prospects and income.
“Social and ecological consequences of forest fires are more severe than economic consequences,” Turkoglu said.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK terror group has been responsible for the death of some 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
Fire is unforgiving
Wildfires are often manmade albeit most of them are accidental - and there are a lot of them. “Globally, on average we see 350 to 450 to million hectares burned by wildfires every year. That’s about the size of India,” Milke Flannigan, a wildfire expert at the University of Alberta told The Verge.
There are three components needed for a wildfire to occur - fuel, heat and oxygen. Trees are essentially blocks of carbon, or the fuel, in this case. When the heat source, fire, combines this block of carbon with oxygen-rife air, there is an onslaught of carbon monoxide into the air. A spark is all that is needed for this deadly combination.
And it gets worse - the hot and dry conditions furnished by climate change make it easier for wildfires to spark. Wildfires in, turn drastically change the atmosphere with excessive carbon monoxide, spreading up global warming. It is a vicious and dangerous cycle.
“As a result of large fires, carbon monoxide gas is emitted. Global warming is a prolonged and great process. However, fires on earth are events that cause acceleration of global warming,” Associate Professor Turkoglu told TRT World.
Yet, forest fires are sometimes necessary to ensure the removal of diseases. The soft fine ash in the aftermath of wildfire also provide conditions ripe for regrowth.
“They are nature’s way of clearing out the dead litter on forest floors. This allows important nutrients to return to the soil, enabling a new healthy beginning for plants and animals. Fires also play an important role in the reproduction of some plants,” a ScienceMag article noted.
But the same article notes that the ecosystem’s propensity to recover from fires is now diminishing with the onslaught of global warming. All roads lead to the same place.
Loss of life is not limited to vegetation - forests teem with wildlife from the top of the foliage to the soil weaving between roots underground. The forest in Dalaman was home to hedgehogs, rabbits, squirrels, foxes and birds - all creatures that depend on each other to live. In other words: they constituted a vibrant ecosystem. But fires have no mercy for life.
“It is a fact that forest fires affect not only trees but the entire forest ecosystem,” Turkoglu confirmed.
Larger animals and birds are typically more capable of escaping the wrath of fire but smaller animals will not be as lucky. If the fire is intense enough and burns for a substantial amount of time, it can also destroy organic material in the soil. At the end of it all, it is homes that are being destroyed.
“It is already a five-year process to clear the fire area and re-afforestation. It is a process that takes at least 50 years for the forest to be completely restored,” Turkoglu said.