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More of Samtskhe-Javakheti up in Smoke as Forest Fires Blaze Again

Gulo Kokhodze, Akhaltsikhe

The Bogi Forest in Akhaltsikhe District has been burning since November 6, ravaging 3 hectares.

“The fire appeared to be extinct the day it started but then winds picked up and fanned the flames into unaffected areas. The area of the fire is difficult to reach and fire engines have been unable to affectively control the situation. We are trying to put out the fire with shovels,” says Malkaz Gikoshvili, head of Samtskhe-Javakheti Regional Forest Department.

The fire in this deciduous forest is half extinguished. However, the evergreen forest is still up in smoke.

Forest fires are not a new phenomenon in the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region. A fire reemerged in an already burned area Adigeni on November 3 and a summer pasture was burning in Vale on November 10, according to Malkhaz Gikoshvili. The fire has spread predominantly in the areas that are difficult to access.

Locals believe that the fires are deliberately set in order to cover the tracks of illegal logging.

“Everything in this country, including nature suffers from the personal interests of certain individuals. The whole forest was cut down and then burned to the ground!  I can not believe that the forest fire began naturally or because someone didn’t put out a camp-fire,” says Badri Merabishvili, a local from the village Uda.

Locals of Bodi village, Akhaltsikhe Municipality also consider that someone involved with illegal logging activities set the fire.

“The trees are cut down and taken out of the forest at night. Then the loggers set fire to the logged areas. If forest rangers catch them, a huge fine will be imposed on them and that is why they set the fire. But I can understand them because the tree business is the only source of income in the village,” says a 46-year-old woman of Bodi.

Malkhaz Gikoshvili, however, denies that the fires are set by loggers: “Bodi forest is so difficult to reach that it is impossible to cut down trees there. In Adigeni, the already burned forest somehow reignited, and in Vale dry hay was burning and only several trees burned there.”

He said that in all three cases the fires started due to negligence, assumedly from a bonfire.

According to Samtskhe-Javakheti Regional Forest Department, 183, 65 m3 trees were cut down illegally in Sviri Ranger district from January 2008 till present. The environmental damages were estimated at being only 3,132 GEL.

The online magazine www.humanrights.ge tried to contact Veriko Aghlemashvili, head of Samtskhe-Javakheti Bureau of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Georgia and comment on fires in Samtskhe-Javakheti Region. However, our attempt was is vain, as she failed to find time to talk with us. How the fires started and many other questions still remain unanswered.

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