In Fethiye the forest fire season has officially begun. From the beginning of May until the end of October, Fethiye’s firefighters and forest defenders will be on constant alert. Just like every other summer they will bravely extinguish fires that all too often other people are responsible for starting.

International Firefighters Day

A salute to Fethiye's courageous firefighters
The red and blue ribbon – in recognition of International Firefighters Day

It also happens that today is International Firefighters Day. So what better time to salute Fethiye’s courageous forest fire fighters?

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes

Protecting Fethiye’s forests

At this time of year, firefighters and forest defenders have no time to relax. Instead, they are on duty right the way through to October. At some point during the summer months it is almost inevitable that these brave teams will battle head to head against raging wildfires.

Fethiye has its own helicopter; one of four firefighting helicopters in Muğla. The others are in Marmaris, Milas and Kuyuçak. They also work closely with their colleagues in Finike (Antalya) and Denizli.

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes
Forests, maquis and dry undergrowth increase the risk of fire

There are teams on duty across the region and they must be prepared to leap into action at the drop of a hat.

Investing in education

During the winter months, teams of experts travel the coasts from the eastern Mediterranean to Istanbul to educate locals in forest fire prevention and help build up fire fighting facilities in vulnerable areas.

And according to the Forestry Ministry, it is Turkey’s efforts to increase preventative measures over the past decade that means the country is now in the top ranks globally for preventative forest firefighting.

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes

Turkey in the vanguard

A spokesman from the Forest Ministry said that although Turkey suffers from higher levels of forest fire damage compared with most other European countries, in recent years it has been more successful in stopping fires before they even start.

“Millions of people live in or near Turkey’s 22 million hectares of forests, making it hard for authorities to protect these fragile and vulnerable areas. Turkey’s forests cover 26% of the country and these are mostly on the coasts or in the immediate hinterland. They play an important part in Turkey’s rich, diverse ecological environment and are very productive: timber and honey being among the most important.”

While Turkey’s forests appear to be lush and green, they are in fact highly vulnerable to fire: most often from a cigarette thoughtlessly tossed out a car window, people who fail to extinguish their campfire, picnickers who lose control of their barbecue, or farmers attempting to burn the remains of their crops after harvesting. Other significant but less common causes include hunting guns, broken electric cables, lightening, broken bottles and other glass debris and, occasionally, arson.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air

Fethiye’s forest operations manager detailed the efforts being made to lessen the impact of wildfires.

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes

“To prevent forest fires and to extinguish them as soon as possible, many precautions have been taken, such as education, keeping forest observation posts [on the top of mountains] active 24 hours a day, hiring temporary forest labourers, providing helicopters and pumps and making better use of natural water resources.”

One example of these improvements are concrete open-water depots. They are in strategic locations close to Turkey’s most vulnerable forests. Built during the last decade, the depots enable helicopters to load up with water in five minutes, rather than half an hour.

A destructive force of nature

In this part of the world it is a sad fact that during the hot, dry summer months, forest fires can ravage the countryside, resulting in the death of people and displacing whole communities: these fires also burn animals, birds and insects as well as trees.

Turkey works hard to make sure there are highly trained teams of fire fighters in every province: brave men who put their own lives at risk to save people and the environment.

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes

A forestry expert told Fethiye Times:

“Statistics reveal that most fires happen either on market days, or at the weekend when people take time off to have a barbecue in a quiet rural spot. Surprisingly, the annual number of recorded fires are statistically pretty constant. However, the damage they do is less than before because of improved techniques, technology and surveillance. The fact is more people are more mobile than they used to be and better roads mean remote areas are more accessible. But this works in our favour, too. Also, most people have mobile phones these days. As a result they can call the emergency services and we can get to the fires more quickly.”

Hot summers + dry forests = danger

Muğla and Antalya are two of Turkey’s provinces that suffer most from the effects of fires. Two-thirds of Muğla is covered by forest and the province has a large diversity of tree species. These include red pine, massive ancient plane trees, rare Liquidambar Orientalis, known locally as Günlük or Siğla. These are also Laurus Nobilis or Bay trees and nearer the coasts, Arbutus Andrachne or Sandal Ağacı.

Protecting livelihoods too

We should not forget what forests mean to those living in them or nearby; forests are their homes, their only legacy and their only way of making money. What happens to these villagers in the event of their homes and land burning? Partly filling the gap in state aid is the OR-KOOP. It is this NGO that pays some compensation to those who lose their homes in a forest fire.

Do your bit to prevent forest fires
Do your bit to prevent forest fires

Working together

In addition to fighting fires on Turkish soil, these teams of experienced men sometimes travel to help other countries too. For example, back in August 2009, Turkey sent a fire-fighting plane to neighbouring Greece. During those devastating forest fires more than 60 people lost their lives.

Fethiye's fire fighting helicopter heroes

Since this terrible fire, Mediterranean countries, including Italy, France and Greek Cyprus are also pooling resources to fight forest fires.

Take care and be watchful

There is a strict ban on camp fires and barbecues in forest areas. Fireworks, Chinese (wish) lanterns are banned at this time of year too. Even if you see these lanterns for sale please don’t buy them. If you smoke cigarettes in your car don’t throw the butts out of the window.

If you see what you think may be a forest fire or are witness to suspicious behaviour call 177 immediately.