Wildfires have burned down an estimated 2,000 locations in Iran’s forests in recent months, particularly in the Zagros Mountains’ forests and the protected forests in southwestern Iran. Successive forest fires started on May 22, 2020 and spread through three Iranian provinces. In contrast to the regime officials who did not take any effective measure to extinguish the fires, locals including many women rushed to put out the fire empty handed and without any equipment.
Regime inaction even as fires spread in Iran’s ancient forests
Wildfires destroyed the Zagros forests and natural areas of Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces and extended to the Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests in Aras, East Azerbaijan in June.
The current forest fire crisis is a clear sign of state officials’ irresponsibility and reveals their complete disregard for Iran’s valuable natural resources, which are home to hundreds of rare plant and animal species.
According to the state media, during all these fires, the Environmental Protection Organization and the Organization to protect the Forests remained silent. (The state-run khabaronline.ir – June 13, 2020)
Acknowledging the bitter fact that the government provides no assistance to extinguish the forest fires, Farzad Azarian, a member of the mullahs’ Parliament (Majlis) in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, said, “The administrative officials are the reason for the destruction of Iran’s precious heritage.”
“In the last 2 years, parts of the Zagros forests have been beset by successive fires. Unfortunately, residents have had no choice but to serve as volunteer firefighters, trying to extinguish the fires with little more than their bare hands,” Azarian said, adding, “Weather conditions, as well as a severe lack of firefighting equipment and rescue helicopters, are among the reasons for the extensive damage to the country’s natural heritage.” (The state-run Mehr news agency – July 9, 2020)
Incompetence and lack of coordination among regime officials had spurred civilians to try to contain the fire themselves as they chanted, “You can’t stop the fire with your bare hands (without necessary equipment).”
Women rushed to help put out the fire with their bare hands
During the forest fires in the Khaeez region, people rushed to the forests, bare-handed, to fight the fires. Many of the volunteer firefighters are women, who selflessly have been battling the flames in service of Iran’s natural forests. Meanwhile, the authorities have failed to take action.
A female climber, rushing to assist environmental activists trying to put out the fires, said that the lack of facilities and equipment was among the most significant problems in controlling and extinguishing forest fires.
Numerous videos circulating on social media show Zahra Khosravi, a resident of a Mamasi village, trying to put out a fire with barely more than a broom.
Another woman called Bibi Solat rushed to the Zagros Mountains to help put out the fire with just a broom.
Roya Janfza, a 19-year-old girl, sustained injuries in both legs after trying to extinguish a fire on the Khaeez mountains.
“I am a mountaineer, and I love the mountains, nature, and forests. When I heard that the protected forests of Khaeez were burning, I thought to myself, ‘I need to help put out the fires,’” Roya said. She indicated that other female climbers were also contributing to the effort to extinguish the fires.
“On the way back from the highlands, when it was getting dark, a rock suddenly fell on me from above, and I was injured – my left leg broke, and my right leg was injured,” she added.
Roya says she has paid a lot for her treatment so far. She received medical treatment in Dehdasht Hospital for about a week. Her father is unemployed and has no income.
“I was injured while helping to put out a forest fire in the Khaeez mountains about 10 days ago, but so far, neither city nor provincial authorities have acknowledged me,” Roya declared (The state-run Hamshahrionline.ir, June 14, 2020).
Five young male environmentalists died while trying to extinguish the forest fires. One of the volunteers in the Khaeez area, by the name of Alborz Zarei, died of severe burns a few weeks later.
Damage to various forest areas
Fires in each hectare of pasture or forest cause billions of rials’ worth in damage to the country’s natural resources. (The state-run Mehr news agency – July 8, 2020)
According to maps published by the World Forest Watch, 1,708 fires were active in the natural areas of the country during the period June 1 to June 4, 2020. The report indicates that in just 5 days, 1 percent of the country’s protected areas burned down.
Based on the data, there were 579 forest fires in Khuzestan, 301 in Fars, 190 in Bushehr, 181 in Ilam, and 156 in Isfahan. (The state-run Hamshahrionline.ir – June 6, 2020)
The Khaeez region, with an area of more than 33,000 hectares, is located on the border between Khuzestan and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces and is 15 kilometers from Dehdasht. The fires started on May 28 in the forestland on the northern side of Khaeez.
Fires also started from Behbahan in Khuzestan province. They were left to rage on as they spread to Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces, reaching the top of the mountain.
Siah Kuh in Dashtestan has been on fire since May 27, 2020. At least 300 palms trees in the area have burned. The fires in the Khaeez region of Tangestan also burned 620 hectares of grassland. More pastures and forests are expected to catch fire.