Minister for Emergency Situations Davit Tonoyan said on Thursday that his agency may receive new and more powerful firefighting equipment after this month’s wildfires that burned hundreds of hectares of forests in Armenia.
The fires erupted in a wooded area in the Vayots Dzor province and the Khosrov Forest State Reserve southeast of Yerevan in the space of two days. The Khosrov blaze was particularly serious, with the Armenian government asking Russia for urgent assistance after firefighters and other emergency workers failed to contain it on their own.
A heavy water-dropping plane sent by the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations played a key role in the firefighting efforts.
Tonoyan admitted that the Armenian Rescue Service, which is part of his ministry, was not well equipped to quickly extinguish the fires. “Of course, technical equipment, special vehicles transporting personnel and army helicopters used [in the operation] did not allow us to respond adequately,” he said. “Rugged terrain and strong winds were also a factor.”
“Certain conclusions regarding increasing the extent of our equipment have been drawn and presented to the president and the prime minister,” Tonoyan told a joint news conference with Environment Minister Artsvik Minasian. He did not specify the type of machinery requested by his ministry.
Rescue Service officials complained during the forest fires that it is practically impossible to deploy their fire engines on steep mountain slopes forming the Khosrov reserve and Vayots Dzor landscapes.
Tonoyan dismissed environmentalists’ claims that his emergency services did not react to the fires fast enough, while acknowledging shortcomings in their work. “Only those who don’t work make no mistakes,” he said.
One of Tonoyan’s deputies, Davit Karapetian, promised last week that the Ministry for Emergency Situations will “learn lessons” from what were the worst forest fires in Armenia in decades.
Minasian said, meanwhile, that the United Nations Development Program has already pledged to help Armenia acquire some firefighting devices. He did not elaborate, saying only that a corresponding agreement will be signed in Yerevan on September 1.
“As regards heavy equipment, Mr. Tonoyan and I have a good idea which we won’t make public now,” added Minasian. “God willing, we will succeed and you will attend the opening ceremony.”
According to the latest government estimates released by Minasian, at least 250 hectares of woodland were burned in the Khosrov reserve.
The environment minister announced that he will initiate personnel changes in the reserve administration and set up “rapid-reaction teams” tasked with preventing fire outbreaks in various Armenian forests.