10 killed in northeast Syrian wildfires
At least 10 people have been killed in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria since Thursday while trying to extinguish mass wildfires that have recently spread across thousands of acres of farmland, a war monitor reported.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said in a statement that it had “documented the death of 9 persons including 5 citizens, a woman, 2 members of Al-Sanadid Arab Forces and a member of the Internal Security Forces (Asayish).”
The SOHR said that those who perished had been trying to extinguish fires in the countryside of Al-Hasakah Province.
On Thursday, a member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which led the fight against the Islamic State in Syria with support of the US-led coalition, also died while assisting in firefighting efforts. The local administration in northeast Syria declared an emergency last week, calling on civilians to assist in the firefighting as well.
Administration officials have also asked the Coalition for help battling the blazes, but its officials have not yet publicly responded.
Sinam Mohamad, the Washington representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, told Kurdistan 24 that the US-led coalition could be of great help to the situation.
“As they are already present on the ground in Northeast Syria they can provide resources such as funding and firefighting technology and equipment,” she said.
The local Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria has blamed the Islamic State and Turkey for being responsible for the fires that have destroyed thousand of acres of agricultural land in recent weeks. However, the SOHR also reported that several gunmen loyal to the regime had been arrested for setting fires in areas east of the Euphrates River.
Wim Zwijnenburg, a researcher at PAX and Bellingcat, said open-source analysis of satellite images had identified at least 100 square 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.”
Nicholas A. Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that to effectively combat crop fires, particular machinery is required to deliver water and to construct berms to impede the fire from spreading.
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.”
On Wednesday, the White Helmets rescue organization in Syria offered to help with firefighting efforts and made a public request “to open safe corridors” that would allow them safe passage to travel to the affected areas, but Mohamed, the Washington SDC representative, flatly rejected the offer.
Similar fires have also destroyed over 30,000 acres of farmland in neighboring Iraq over the past month, with new fires starting in fifteen different locations in Nineveh Province on Friday alone.
According to a security source who spoke to Kurdistan 24, the blazes had reached the outskirts of the city of Mosul as well.
Seven have died and another 20 suffered injuries over the past week while fighting the fires in Nineveh. Local media reported that at least five of the casualties were members of civil defense units.