Park officials prioritize prevention

Firebreaks created in Hawari Shar Park to mitigate wildfire risks

SULAYMANIYAH — The management of Hawari Shar Park in Sulaymaniyah has initiated the construction of firebreaks throughout the park and its surrounding woodlands and hillsides as a preventive measure aiming to safeguard the area against the threat of wildfires.

Spanning over 4,400 dunams (approximately 1,087 acres), Hawari Shar Park, regarded as the Middle East’s second-largest urban park, is located in the northwest of Sulaymaniyah city and saw workers plant over three thousand saplings this year alone.

Park officials want to ensure the longevity of greening initiatives and according to them, yearly construction of firebreaks is essential to protect the flora inside and outside the park.

The firebreaks are constructed using a combination of machinery, such as backhoes, and chemical treatments designed to inhibit vegetation growth that could fuel fires. Firebreaks are typically utilized in fire-prone regions around the world to reduce fire hazards and the intensity of fires that erupt, as well as provide space for civil defense teams to tackle blazes.

The spring and summer seasons draw tens of thousands of visitors to Hawari Shar, increasing the risk of fires big and small. Fereydun Omer, the director of the park, told 964media, “Maintaining firebreaks is one of our main tasks because any fire here could destroy a lot of vegetation.”

Omer also noted that in recent years, there have been no major fires within the park. “The fires we’ve had were small, often caused by discarded cigarettes or small campfires, and were quickly controlled,” he said.

The Kurdistan Region has grappled with an increasing number of destructive fires in recent years, affecting both urban and rural areas.

Authorities in Erbil have reported a surge in fires this year alone, resulting in billions of dinars in material damage and at least three fatalities. Erbil Civil Defense spokesperson Karwan Mirawdali said in March that officials had reported over 200 fires since January.

Wildfires also remain a serious threat outside of the region’s main cities and towns, ravaging forests and agricultural land. Forest and environmental police in the region’s eastern district of Penjwen reported nearly 9,000 acres of land burned in 2023, while in officials in Akre, Bardarash, and Sheikhan said a staggering 1,089 fires were recorded last year, destroying approximately 139,000 dunams (34,300 acres) of wheat and barley fields.