The Ministry for Emergency Situations on Thursday pledged to “learn lessons” from two wildfires that have burned hundreds of hectares of forests in Armenia, while defending its response to the disasters.
Meanwhile, a Russian firefighting plane dropped water on the Khosrov Forest State Reserve for the third consecutive day as part of what ministry officials described as “post-extinguishment works” going on in the mountainous area southeast of Yerevan.
Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Davit Karapetian said the Ilyushin-72 plane is creating more “security zones and a humid environment” to prevent renewed outbreaks of fire there. Karapetian stood by official estimates that the fire which erupted in the Khosrov reserve on Saturday burned 360 hectares of woodland.
The other blaze, he said, burned 320 hectares of land covered with trees in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province. It broke out on August 10 and lasted for four days.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Karapetian dismissed critics’ claims that his ministry is to blame for the scale of the damage because it proved unprepared for the wildfires. He complained of excessive “expectations that such calamities can be neutralized within minutes or hours.”
“Unfortunately, massive forest fires are a serious challenge even for the most developed countries,” the vice-minister went on. “But this is not an excuse.”
Karapetian promised at the same time that his ministry will conduct “meticulous analyses” and “learn lessons” from what were the worst wildfires in Armenia in decades. It will “enhance the capacity to respond” to such disasters, he said.
“I think that in essence the issue has been solved for now,” declared Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielian, who chaired the meeting,
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Karapetian admitted that Armenian Rescue Service and other ministry divisions were not equipped well enough to cope with the fires. “We do have equipment but it’s not enough,” he said. “It was purchased within the limits of our ministry’s [budgetary] means. Why don’t we have a firefighting aircraft? Because it’s quite expensive.”
The official also defended the authorities’ decision to ask the Russian government to send the heavy plane two days after the outbreak of the Khosrov fire. “On August 12, the scale of the fire was not that big and we hoped to contain it by ourselves,” he said. “But strong winds made it spread more rapidly.”