Wildfire Destroys Grove in Turkey

In an ironic twist of fate, Turkey's olive trees had just been saved from proposed changes to the country's “olive law” when they went up in flames.

Jul. 10, 2017
By Julie Al-Zoubi

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Fifty decares (50,000 square meters) of olive groves went up in smoke and a 100-year-old olive tree was reduced to ash, as fire raged through an olive grove in Turkey’s Aydin province on June 25. Strong winds fanned the flames and the rugged ter­rain mak­ing up Aydın’s Sultanhisar dis­trict ham­pered fire­fight­ing efforts.

A joint oper­a­tion between local fire crews, the Forestry Operation Directorate and fire heli­copters was under­taken but it was sev­eral hours before fire­fight­ers man­aged to con­tain the blaze, believed to have been started by a dis­carded cig­a­rette butt.

In an ironic twist of fate, Turkey’s olive trees had just been saved from being ousted by indus­trial plants, mines and hous­ing projects under pro­posed changes to the olive law,” which would have reduced their level of legal pro­tec­tion.

Erkin Ilguzer, an olive grower and the owner of the Cafe Olive Art Gallery in Akkoy Village, Didim told Olive Oil Times, Unfortunately those for­est fires are very com­mon dur­ing the red hot dry sum­mer sea­son.” For the past three days, almost half of Turkey’s for­est fire­fight­ers have been dis­patched to a blaze sweep­ing across Izmir which has already destroyed around 500 hectares of for­est land.

In 2016, 20 acres of olive groves were destroyed along with other crops when fire engulfed farm­land near the tourist resort of Bodrum. Firefighters bat­tled for seven hours to get the Bodrum inferno under con­trol.

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The Aydin olive grove fire broke out as farm­ers, olive oil pro­duc­ers and envi­ron­men­tal­ists were cel­e­brat­ing the quash­ing of a con­tro­ver­sial draft law which would have meant that olive groves with less than 15 trees per decare were reclas­si­fied as fields, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to dis­place­ment by mines, indus­trial plants and hous­ing com­plexes deemed to be of pub­lic ben­e­fit.”

As the fate of Turkey’s olive trees was being decided, lead­ing politi­cians became embroiled in the debate. Faruk Özlü, min­is­ter of sci­ence, indus­try and tech­nol­ogy sym­pa­thized with olive pro­duc­ers and vowed to with­draw the olive tree draft if it harmed even one olive tree” pledg­ing, If I know that even one olive tree is going to be cut down because of this law, I will with­draw it.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim crit­i­cized oppo­nents of the changes say­ing, It has been pre­sented as if olive groves are being razed for con­struc­tion. That is wrong. Those who do not want Turkey to gain com­pet­i­tive power are engag­ing in this manip­u­la­tion.”

Yildirim accused the oppo­si­tion of pre­sent­ing it in such a way that it is as if we destroyed olive groves,” and claimed, Sometimes de facto sit­u­a­tions arise. There are facil­i­ties which are con­structed on for­mer olive groves. The sit­u­a­tion of those facil­i­ties has to be legal­ized. If that grove is on an indus­trial con­struc­tion site, if there is no pos­si­bil­ity to engage in olive agri­cul­ture, the reg­u­la­tion allows the indus­try to use the fields it needs.”

Turkey’s olive trees may be safe, for the moment, from man-made threats, but as the recent fire has shown, they remain vul­ner­a­ble to nat­ural dis­as­ter.



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