After a five-month investigation, Armenian law-enforcement authorities have decided not to prosecute anyone in connection with a massive wildfire in a nature reserve southeast of Yerevan.
The fire in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve erupted in August and raged for at least four days before being extinguished by Armenian emergency workers with the help of a Russian firefighting plane. It burned at least 360 of hectares of woodland.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee initially charged one unnamed person under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with serious damage caused to a forest.
A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Sona Truzian, said on Thursday that it has closed the criminal case for lack of any evidence of arson or human negligence. She said investigators concluded that last summer’s drought and unusually high air temperatures were the likely cause of the calamity.
Environment Protection Minister Artsvik Minasian said he has no reason to call their findings into question. “I have confidence in the professionalism of our law-enforcement bodies,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Minasian stated as recently as in October that the cause of the blaze was “definitely not natural.”
His ministry announced at the time that it has asked for and received aerial photographs of the Khosrov reserve that were taken by U.S. surveillance satellites the day after the fire broke out on August 12. It said it has forwarded the images to the Investigative Committee.
Hakob Sanasarian, a veteran environment protection activist, said he does not trust the committee’s conclusion and suspects a cover-up. Sanasarian also slammed the Environment Protection Ministry, saying that it was not equipped to contain the blaze and has failed to learn lessons.
Minasian argued that the ministry lacks funds to hire more staff for this and other forests. He also said it has since acquired some types of new technical equipment and revised its contingency plans for wildfires.
The Khosrov reserve occupies roughly 25,000 hectares of land. Around 9,000 hectares of it are forests originally planted during the reign of a 4th century Armenian king, Khosrov III.