The Middle East fights wildfires: Turkey and Lebanon fight blazes as deaths reported

    02 Aug 2021

    At least four people have died as soaring summer heat sparks off wildfires across the Middle East. Wildfires have wreaked havoc across Turkey and Lebanon as record summer temperatures continue to batter the region, Middle East Eye reports.

    At least three people are known to have died in Turkey due to fires in the country’s south, while a teenage boy has been reported killed in fires in the Qubayyat area of Lebanon’s remote Akkar region.

    Turkey’s AFAD disaster agency and agriculture minister said rescue efforts were underway after the second day of fires in the southern provinces. At the same time, more than 100 people had been evacuated, required medical treatment, or suffered property damage.

    A firefighter cools a burnt house as a massive forest fire spread to the town of Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of the resort city of Antalya, Turkey, on July 28, 2021.

    Photo by Marta Logvyn

    Around 18 villages and districts in Antalya provinces and 16 more villages in neighboring Adana and Mersin have so far been evacuated, said Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli.

    He said an 82-year-old man had been found dead during the evacuation of the village of Kepezbeleni near the resort town of Antalya, while a further two people had been found dead in the nearby village of Degirmenli.

    Some 960 personnel and a plane, a drone, 19 helicopters, and around 250 vehicles were currently involved in firefighting efforts, added Pakdemirli.

    AFAD said that houses located in areas that the fire could impact had been evacuated, while “several homes, offices, farms, agricultural fields, greenhouses, and vehicles have been damaged by fire.”

    Pakdemirli said there had been 41 wildfires in 13 of Turkey’s 81 provinces since July 27, of which 31 were under control.

    Blazes in Osmaniye and Kayseri were still burning.

    Television footage showed a separate fire raging in hills near a residential area in the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris.

    Photo by Marta Logvyn

    “The fire is huge”

    Meanwhile, Lebanese personnel volunteers were also struggling to cope with raging fires on Thursday.

    Lebanese civil defense said that one 15-year old boy “who rushed to the scene to help douse the flames” had died, while according to the Lebanese Red Cross, another eight people were hospitalized due to the fire in the northern Akkar region.

    The government sent helicopters to help tame the fires. At the same time, the National News Agency said Cyprus was keeping firefighting aircraft on standby – but the crumbling Lebanese state apparatus has so far been ineffective.

    “The situation on the ground is frightening,” Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told AFP.

    “The fire is huge; it has destroyed vast forested areas and is now threatening homes.”

    The Middle East has been seeing record temperatures in recent years, which many have attributed to climate change.

    In the last two years, hundreds of fires have swept across Lebanon and the coastal highland regions of Syria during summer heatwaves that reached residential areas and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

    Apart from wildfires, the blazing heat has caused electricity and water shortages, and environmental analysts have said that extreme weather events are likely to become more common as global warming continues to have an impact.

    Lebanon battled rapidly spreading wildfires since July 28 after they destroyed pine forests and threatened homes in northern areas, Gulf-Times states.

    The blaze that started Wednesday in Lebanon’s remote Akkar region “is spreading quickly over large areas,” Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told AFP.

    “It’s spreading in all directions,” fanned by high winds, Mortada said, adding that it had reached neighboring Syria.

    According to the state-run National News Agency, the blaze, which has killed a 15-year-old volunteer firefighter and forced many people from their homes, gained pace overnight.

    “The fires were out of control in the Jabal Akroum” region, which straddles the border, NNA said.

    “The area affected by the fire expanded significantly overnight… approaching orchards, farmland, and some homes evacuated by their residents,” it said.

    There is no official estimate of the size of the area affected.

    The army deployed two helicopters early Friday to help douse the flames, and more local volunteers joined the firefighting effort, NNA said.

    The Red Cross treated one volunteer with breathing difficulties, it added.

    George Abou Moussa of Lebanon’s civil defense said firefighting teams were working to contain the blaze.

    “But there are areas we can’t reach,” he told AFP.

    According to Mortada, the cash-strapped government is looking for outside help.

    “The Lebanese government doesn’t have access to many firefighting aircraft,” and is pinning its hopes on assistance from Cyprus, Greece, and neighboring Syria, Mortada said.

    For its part, Syria said that it has managed to contain fires spreading from Lebanese territory.

    “The fire that spread from Lebanese territory to the… Qusayr region has been completely extinguished,” the state SANA news agency reported, citing the director of Syria’s civil defense.

    The government’s failure to contain devastating wildfires in October 2019 was one of the triggers of an unprecedented, nationwide protest movement against perceived official incompetence and corruption.

    As we wrote previously, thousands of holidaymakers had been evacuated from Aegean Sea resorts as Turkey fights more than 50 blazes.Extreme weather takes climate change models “off the scale,” scientists state.

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