Kurdish-led authorities in Syria struggling with wild fires

“There is danger of fire reaching the oil installations in the same areas.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – With record-setting temperatures, local authorities in northeast Syria are having troubles with wildfires that are devastating agricultural fields.

With a lack of fire trucks and trained firefighters, members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have assisted civilians in extinguishing the flames with blankets.

The local administration has called on the US-led coalition for support to stop the fires.

The farmlands of Hasakah province are considered the breadbasket of Syria, but the fires have damaged wheat and crops in the in Tirbespiyê district as well.

“There is danger of fire reaching the oil installations in the same areas,” the administration said in a statement, blaming external and local actors for the blaze.

“Turkey has contributed to such actions on the borderline, as well as other affiliate factions.”

According to the human rights monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Turkish border guards had previously set crops on fire on the border in the Hasakah province.

Turkey has not yet responded to the allegations.

The administration also blamed the so-called Islamic State for setting crops on fire, describing it as a “war tactic.”

In late May, Islamic State-run magazine Naba claimed responsibility for fires in Syria and said the goal was to hit the “farms of the apostates.”

Kurdistan 24 witnessed the fires in the east of Tirbespiyê, between the villages of Girê Pirê and Girdê.

“I’m from Girê Pirê, most of the land in that village has been burnt. Kurds own the lands,” one local villager told Kurdistan 24.

“The fire started from above our village, from the village of Beyaz, at 10 a.m., then it extended to Seyik Duma and Girê Pirê farmlands,” the local added. “The fire destroyed the lands and also the houses in the village.”

The villager said the cause of the fire and culprits behind it remains a mystery, noting the lands were burnt within two hours.

Wim Zwijnenburg, a researcher at PAX and Bellingcat, said open-source analysis of satellite images had identified at least 100 kilometers of burned areas throughout Syria’s northeast.

“These fires threaten the life and livelihoods of affected communities,” Zwijnenburg told Kurdistan 24. “There are also wider concerns as these fires are encroaching professional and artisanal oil refineries, a major industry in this part of Syria.”

According to the North Press Agency (NPA), a fuel station caught fire near the Tisreen dam near Raqqa on Monday, destroying the station and nearby vehicles.

According to researcher Zwijnenburg, the firefighting could also impact water reserves, crucial for irrigation of agriculture.

“The international community should provide additional support in terms of logistics and equipment to help combat the fires and prevent a larger environment related catastrophe in the conflict-affected region.”

Nicholas A. Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said combating crop fires requires machinery to deliver water and to construct berms to impede the spread of the fire.

The local administration needs “water tankers to bring water to where the fire is located, and helicopters that can deliver water from the air,” Heras told Kurdistan 24.

“This is specialized equipment that Coalition nations could donate for the firefighting. The Coalition could organize an emergency task force to deliver this support.”

However, he noted that the US-led coalition forces inside Syria or neighboring Iraq are not firefighting brigades.

“But the Coalition has the resources across its member states to bring in the technical assistance and equipment needed.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Additional reporting by Akram Salih)