by Leo Kendrick
Wildfires afflicting Tunceli province in eastern Turkey have now been brought under control as they enter their thirteenth day. Firefighting efforts had moved to the air to combat the blazes on steep slopes of the Ovacık district, a rural and mountainous area located near the Erzincan provincial border.
The fires, which started August 18th near the border between Hozat and Ovacık districts, had originally been reported by the municipality as extinguished on Saturday, a claim that was disputed by local residents. Inhabitants of Buzlutepe in the Ovacık district reported that the burning had reached within 600 meters of the village. Efforts to contain the blazes were then moved to the air as other methods proved insufficient. Turkey’s General Directorate of Forestry reported that one airplane and two helicopters had been deployed to the area, as well as 40 firefighting personnel and a variety of government vehicles.
Over the weekend, offers of help were extended from across Turkey to contain the burns. Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu announced in a statement Saturday that the Istanbul municipality was prepared to offer its resources to bring the wildfires under control. Main opposition leader and Republican People’s Party chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has roots in the Tunceli area, released a statement on social media saying “We are ready to do whatever is necessary” to extinguish the blazes and assist with the recovery.
Among the areas worst affected is Munzur Valley National Park, known as a hotspot of biodiversity in Turkey, with well-preserved forests, rivers, wildlife, and a host of endemic plant species. Since the outbreak of wildfires in Tunceli nearly two weeks ago, some critics have noted the comparatively limited attention the issue has received, especially compared to the fires that devastated Muğla and Antalya provinces in Turkey’s southeast earlier this month. Muğla and Antalya, home to numerous beaches, resorts, and vacation homes, make up a significant portion of Turkey’s tourism revenue. Similar to the extreme flooding that hit Turkey’s Black Sea region two weeks ago, the Tunceli wildfires have been relatively lower-profile events.
While the fires have been brought under control, efforts to cool the affected forested areas are ongoing.