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Locals speculate arson to blame for wildfire

By Shorena Labadze
Thursday, May 1
Firefighters put out a forest fire in a southwestern Georgian region on April 29, and some locals suggest the blaze was intentionally set.

Fire brigades struggled for two days to put out the fire, impeded by rugged terrain and strong winds.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Ekaterine Bendeliani, said the fire covered two hectares of the Borjomi-Kharagauli national park.

Firefighters said the fire was about twenty kilometers away from populated areas, and never posed a threat to residents.

Bendeliani ruled out the possibility of arson, saying the land is in a national park and has a good security.

“When the territory is protected, it’s impossible for someone to do something like that,” Bendeliani said. She blamed careless farmers for starting the blaze, but didn’t explain how forest patrols could prevent intentional, but not unintentional, fires.

“[The fires] are connected with farmers’ spring agricultural activities, as they burn their odds and ends after farming in the forest, and their carelessness is the only reason for these fires,” she said.

Some Adigeni locals suggested a connection between arson and financial profits.

“It may have been arson, because when the land isn’t covered with the trees the price of the land is lower [for a buyer],” Adigeni resident Soso Mchedlidze said.

Adigeni’s forests have burned before. In 2006, a blaze took 700 firefighters five days to put out.

Bendeliani says there is nothing about Adigeni, a southwestern district of about 800 square kilometers, that puts it at an unusual risk for forest fires.

Firefighter Goga Shukakidze said the government’s policy is to put out all forest fires as soon as possible, rejecting the idea of letting fires burn to promote new forest growth.

“Fire is bad for the forest and the people—there’s no positive side to it,” he said.