YEREVAN (RFE/RL) – Satellite images provided by the United States may help Armenia law-enforcement authorities identify the causes of a recent massive wildfire in a nature reserve southeast of Yerevan, Armenia’s Minister of Nature Protection Artsvik Minasyan said on Wednesday.
The fire in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve erupted on August 12 and raged for at least four days before being extinguished by Armenian emergency workers with the help of a Russian firefighting plane. It burned hundreds of hectares of woodland.
Minasyan said that his ministry asked relevant authorities in the U.S. to share aerial photographs of the mountainous area taken by American surveillance satellites.
“We received photographs taken on August 13, the morning after the fire erupted,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They show three separate sources of fire. This suggests that something was done there [by humans.]”
“Naturally, we forwarded this information to investigative bodies … and we hope that there will be major revelations regarding the causes [of the fire,]” added the minister.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee, which is conducting a criminal inquiry into the Khosrov fire, confirmed that it received the high-resolution images. Its spokeswoman, Sona Truzian, said, however, that they are mere copies of the photographs and that investigators asked the Environment Protection Ministry to provide originals.
Truzian also said that as part of the ongoing investigation, one person has been charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code dealing with serious damage caused to a forest. She did not specify whether the suspect is accused of deliberately setting fire. She said instead that the investigators are still examining different theories of what was one of Armenia’s worst wildfires in decades.
Minasyan suggested in that regard that the blaze was the result of arson or human negligence. “The cause was definitely not natural,” the minister said. “There was no lightning or thunders on that day. It’s a fact. So it’s possible that there was some malevolence or negligence involved.”
The Khosrov reserve occupies roughly 25,000 hectares of land. Around 9,000 hectares of it are forests that were originally planted during the reign of a 4th century Armenian king, Khosrov III.