Mysterious fire erupts in Forest of Mosul in northern Iraq

Investigation under way to determine cause

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Municipality workers on Thursday removed the charred remains of burnt trees from the Forest of Mosul in northern Iraq a day after a massive fire swept through the area.

Mosul's treasured nature reserve is still recovering from the devastating three-year ISIS occupation of the city and the subsequent gruelling war to drive the militants out.

“The fire erupted at around noon on Wednesday,” Zaid Mousheer Agha, head of the city's Gardens and Forestry Department, told The National.

“Firefighters and municipality authorities battled the blaze for about six hours before bringing it under control,” Mr Agha said. “The blaze had been fanned by the high winds.”

The fire left part of the forest, which is located inside the city of Mosul, charred and smoking.

“It is still unclear what caused the fire and authorities are investigating and examining the damage,” Chief Engineer Faisal Zoyan Majeed told The National as he was supervising the work.

“It is estimated that we lost more than 15 dunams,” he added. Fifteen dunams is equivalent to about 1.5 hectares.

The forest was established on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in the early 1950s, occupying an area of 10 dunams, with a nursery to produce seeds for trees.

It was expanded in stages until it covered an area of about 1,000 dunams during its peak in the 1960s and 1970s.

Various types of trees have been planted in the area over the years, such as eucalyptus, elm, pine and other varieties suited to the environmental conditions of the city, which experience cold winters and blazing summers.

After ISIS's blitz in mid-2014 — which ended with the extremist group controlling large areas in northern and western Iraq, including Mosul — locals cut down the forest's trees for cooking and winter fuel amid a blockade of the city.

ISIS also used parts of the forest as a camp and training area for fighters.

It then endured bombardment during the fight to liberate the city that lasted for more than three years.

After ISIS was defeated in late 2017, local officials estimated that more than 80 per cent of the forest had been damaged, with acres littered with mines and unexploded ordnance.

Local and international non-governmental organisations have been working to clear the forest of mines and explosives over the years.

At least 24,000 different of varieties of trees have been planted since last year, and local authorities and NGOs plan to plant thousands more.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 6:42 AM