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Monday, September 27, 2021

Turkey battles wildfires for 6th day, 10,000 are evacuated

Residents and tourists have fled vacation resorts in flotillas of small boats or convoys of cars and trucks.

By: AP | Turkey |
August 3, 2021 11:48:22 am
A man down a road in the fire-devastating Sirtkoy village, near Manavgat, Antalya, Turkey. (AP Photo)

Selcuk Sanli set his two cows lose, put his family’s most treasured belongings in a car and fled his home as a wildfire approached his village near Turkey’s beach resort of Bodrum, one of the thousands fleeing flames that have coated the skies with a thick yellow haze.

For the sixth straight day, Turkish firefighters battled Monday to control the blazes that are tearing through forests near Turkey’s beach destinations. Fed by strong winds and scorching temperatures, the fires that began Wednesday have left eight people dead. Residents and tourists have fled vacation resorts in flotillas of small boats or convoys of cars and trucks. Many villagers have lost their homes and farm animals and have had trouble breathing amid the heavy smoke.

Overall, some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Mugla province alone, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Monday.

Sanli returned to check on his house Monday in Bozalan only to find that the fire had flared.
“Property is an important part of life but life itself comes first,” he said as he prepared to leave once again.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on Twitter that crews were still tackling nine fires in the coastal provinces of Antalya and Mugla that are popular tourist areas. Other active fires were in the provinces of Isparta, Denizli, Izmir and Adana.

Another fire in Tunceli, in southeast Turkey, was contained on Monday, the minister said earlier. In all, 137 fires that broke out in over 30 provinces since Wednesday have been extinguished.

“We are going through days when the heat is above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), where the winds are strong and humidity is extremely low,” Pakdemirli said. “We are struggling under such difficult conditions.”

In Bozalan, Esra Sanli sobbed as she pointed at a fire raging near the village.

“There’s no plane, there’s no helicopter, there are no roads. How is this going to be extinguished? How?” she said.

Firetrucks, with their sirens on, drove toward Bozalan, while villagers were seen herding cows away from the area.

A firefighter extinguishes a forest fire near the town of Manavgat, east of the resort city of Antalya, Turkey. (Source: Reuters)

On Sunday, residents were forced to evacuate the nearby village of Cokertme as flames neared. Some got on small boats and others left by cars as the fire got closer and closer — scenes that Ahmet Aras, the mayor of the nearby resort of Bodrum, described as “hell”. Precautions were taken to protect two nearby thermal power plants.

An evacuation order was also issued for the town of Turunc, near the seaside resort of Marmaris in Mugla province. People carrying suitcases fled on small boats.

Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said Monday that some tourists were able to return to their hotels after the threat dissipated.

The EU said it helped mobilize firefighting planes from Croatia and Spain to help Turkey. Planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran have also been fighting the blazes. Spain said it was sending two water-dumping aircraft and one transport plane as well as 27 soldiers to help.

The EU announcement followed allegations that the Turkish government was compromising firefighting efforts by refusing help from Western nations. Pakdemirli refuted that, saying that the government had only refused offers for planes whose water-dumping capacities were less than five tons. A total of 16 planes, 51 helicopters and more than 5,000 personnel were tackling the fires, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has also been widely criticized for failing to purchase state-of-the-art firefighting planes.

In Marmaris, Mayor Mehmet Oktay said fires were still burning in two locations and estimated that 11,000 hectares (28,000 acres) of the forest had been incinerated. On Monday, the fire reached the edge of the village of Hisaronu, burning a number of homes and descending down a mountainside toward a road as police evacuated ambulance crews and journalists.

A forest fire burns near Marmaris, Turkey (Photo: Reuters)

“Our lungs have been burning for the past five days,” Oktay told Haberturk television.

The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said at least 27 people affected by the fires were still being treated in hospitals while hundreds of others had been treated and released.

Soylu, the interior minister, said authorities were investigating the cause of the fires, including human “carelessness” and possible sabotage by outlawed Kurdish militants. He said one person was detained over allegations that he may have been paid by the group to start a fire.

Experts, however, mostly point to climate change as being behind the fires, along with accidents caused by people. Erdogan has said one of the fires was started by children.

A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy and Greece, where people had to be evacuated by sea to escape the flames.

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