By Parvaneh Masoumi
June 18, 2021
Wildfires continue in part of Karkheh Forest in Khuzestan province’s Shush county for the fourth day in a row. The blaze was briefly contained but then on Tuesday, the wind caused the flames to flare up again.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 18 fires have broken out in the Karkheh Forest region. An environmental specialist, though, has told IranWire: “Human factors were involved. The head and drought are not the cause.”
The latest blaze broke out on Sunday night close to the village of Seyed Adnan. Taking place as it did during the birds’ breeding season, a large number of sparrows and pigeons in their nests, as well as other species of animals including snakes, have perished in this fire.
The Karkheh Protected Area covers an area of about 14,000 hectares, of which 7,500 hectares are a national park. Salt cedar trees, desert poplars, Christ’s thorn shrubs, mulberry bushes and willows grow there in abundance, along with some other types of trees.
Bahman Izadi, director of the Fars Green Center and director of the Iranian Ecology Movement, told IranWire he believed government agencies irresponsibility was to blame. “At the moment,” he said, “eleven habitats in the Zagros oak area in Fars province, up to the plains of Khuzestan and especially the arid regions, are being affected by fires.
“In the past week alone, 5,000 hectares of Iran’s densest Zagros habitats were burned and destroyed – amid the silence of the domestic media.”
Izadi warned of the possible advance of the Karkheh fire and the damage it could cause to people’s health. He pointed out that no official investigation had been launched into the cause, meaning any human perpetrator is not likely to face punishment.
“In the past two years,” he said, “serial or ‘chain’ fires have become so ambiguous; it’s like we’re in a war, as if the country has been attacked.” The most painful sound to emanate from the burning woods, he said, is the cries of jackals whose children have been caught in the fire.
“Most believe the fires were caused by climate change and rising temperatures,” Izadi said. “But most of them are man-made and have nothing to do with natural processes. There are groups in the country working to destroy forest ecosystems so that in the future they can take possession of the land and use it for livestock and agriculture.”
According to government statistics on forest fires last year, nearly 80 percent of fires were caused by human activity. Fires are also responsible for the brunt of deforestation; according to government figures, in 2020-2021, 1,200 fires broke out in the country’s forests and pastures, covering 12,500 hectares. But the deputy head of Iran’s Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization announced this April that in fact, more than 21,000 hectares of forest in Iran had caught fire in the past 12 months.
“I believe many of these cases are intentional,” Izadi said. “It is sometimes claimed that quarrels between shepherds or nomads over pastures to acquire have led one or other party starting a fire, which has then spread to higher ground.”
Iran loses large swathes of its forest and rangeland habitats every year due to heat and the burning of pastures. The government has so far failed to set an example in containing and dealing with these fires when they break out. Instead, the fires tend to slowly burn themselves out after causing massive destruction, extinguished by natural obstacles such as the rocky mountainsides or lakes.
One of the most damaging in the last year was the large-scale burning of the Khaeez Protected Area in Kohkilouyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, southwestern Iran, which saw more than 10,000 hectares of Zagros forests razed to the ground. This tropical region has been designated a national protected area since 1998 due to its diverse flora and fauna.
Meanwhile, Izadi says, numerous fires have recently broken out in Kurdistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Khuzestan and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, which were not officially recorded. “Based on this very negative history,” Izadi says, “I believe the [most recent] fire will engulf the lands around Shoush and Karkheh. The government is not serious about fighting it.”
Every forest fire in Iran is made worse by a lack of fire control equipment, logistics, firefighter gear and trained manpower. Environmental activists have complained that it takes two to three days for firefighters’ helicopters to arrive on the scene after a fire breaks out. Iran’s Sixth National Development Plan obliged the government to form an advanced firefighting unit, but despite the many, disastrous fires since then, this body still has yet to be established.