Wildfires sweep Turkey’s southern coast: four people dead

    01 Aug 2021

    More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts and inland areas, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that 14 were still burning, Gulf-Times reports.

    The death toll from wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast has risen to four, and firefighters were battling blazes for a third day yesterday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

    Planes from Russia and Ukraine helped battle the flames, and another from Azerbaijan was joining them.

    “As of midday, with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.

    His office has officially blamed arson and unspecified “attacks.”

    Erdogan told reporters that his opponents were trying to score political points by questioning the government’s preparedness for the crisis.

    “While our country is burning, they are playing politics,” he said.

    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the arrest of five people on suspicion of starting one of the blazes.

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    “Who started these fires,” he asked in televised comments during a visit to Manavgat. “We, as well as our citizens, have our suspicions.”

    Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

    Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas, and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

    The soaring flames turned summer skies blood orange over luxury hotels and villages dotting rolling hills that have been parched by another dry summer.

    Local resident Gulen Dede Tekin came to a five-star hotel in the coastal city of Marmaris on Thursday morning and at first thought nothing of the fires raging beyond the hills.

    “In the evening, we realized how serious things were when they cut off the electricity and the ventilation at the hotel,” Tekin told AFP. “This morning, we woke up to a rain of ash.”

    Photo by Marta Luo

    Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

    “We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning, but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

    Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said.

    On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before firefighters brought it under control.

    Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

    In Turkey, firefighters on the ground and in helicopters were fighting a blaze that killed three people in Manavgat, 75km (45 miles) east of Antalya.

    Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said 27 neighborhoods were evacuated there.

    One person was found dead on Thursday in Mugla’s Marmaris area, 290km west of Manavgat.

    The blaze continued in Marmaris, but residential areas were not at risk, Pakdemirli said.

    Erdogan said at least five planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 1,080 firefighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts at 1,140 sites.

    Istanbul governor’s office banned entry to forest areas until the end of August as a precaution against fires.

    Turkish fires sweeping through tourist areas are the hottest on record

    Thousands of holidaymakers evacuated from Aegean Sea resorts as the country fights more than 50 blazes, The Guardian reports.

    Photo by Marta Luo

    The heat intensity of wildfires in Turkey on Thursday was four times higher than anything on record for the nation, according to satellite data passed on to the Guardian.

    At least four people were killed by blazes that swept through the tourist regions of Antalya and Muğla, forcing thousands of holidaymakers to be evacuated from their hotels by a flotilla of boats.

    Conditions there and at the sites of dozens of other blazes throughout the country were tinder dry. Turkey’s 60-year temperature record had been broken the previous week when Cizre, a town in the south-east, registered 49.1C.

    After deadly heatwaves in the Americas, floods in Europe and China, and fires in Siberia, the scenes of destruction in Turkey add to concerns about the growing ferocity of extreme weather in a climate-disrupted world.

    Local media published photos of popular Aegean Sea resorts surrounded by burning hillsides and forest and farmland reduced to ash. At Bodrum, in Muğla province, 80 hectares (197 acres) were burnt despite firefighting efforts on the ground and by air. The flames cut off two hotels, forcing the evacuation of more than 4,000 tourists and staff by coastguard and fishing vessels.

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    Wildfires are common in Turkey during the summer, but the blazes over the past two days have been exceptional. Satellite analysis by the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service shows the heat intensity of the country’s fires on Thursday reached about 20 gigawatts, four times higher than the previous daily maximum.

    “Those numbers are off the scale compared to the last 19 years,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist in the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. He said the smoke from fires near Antalya and Mersin was now drifting to Cyprus.

    Residents of affected towns told reporters they had never seen anything like it. Ibrahim Aydın, a farmer, said he had lost all his livestock and nearly been killed while fighting the flames. “Fire burned everything I had to the ground. I lost lambs and other animals,” he told the Daily Sabah. “This is not normal. This was like hell.”

    Throughout the country, firefighters battled more than 50 blazes. Dozens were hospitalized by the fumes. As news spread, #PrayForTurkey was trending on Twitter with images of devastation and maps showing the locations of the more than two dozen fires across the country.

    Government ministers speculated that the cause might be arson attacks by the Kurdish separatist movement PKK but provided no evidence. Few domestic reports mentioned broader climate trends that are heightening the dangers of fire in Turkey and elsewhere.

    Climate scientists have long predicted the Mediterranean will be hit hard by rising temperatures and changes in rainfall, driven by human emissions. According to the last report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, future wildfire risk is projected to increase in southern Europe.

    Photo by Marta Luo

    The Turkish climate scientist Levent Kurnaz said recent weather had created conditions for easy ignition.  “The weather is scorching and dry. This helps to start fires. Our smallest mistake leads to great disaster,” he tweeted.

    This year looks likely to continue the trend. The World Meteorological Organisation tweeted that extreme heat is hitting the wider Mediterranean region with temperatures forecast to rise well above 40C in inland areas of Italy, Greece, Tunisia, and Turkey. It has urged preparations to prevent health and water supply problems.

    The heatwave in southern Europe is expected to linger well into next week, with some forecasts suggesting it could be among the most severe on record. The Turkish meteorological office sees little likelihood of respite in the week ahead. Next week, Ankara and several other sites are set for temperatures more than 12C higher than the August average.

    Photo by Marta Luo

    Wildfires have already hit southern Greece, forcing evacuations of villages outside the western port city of Patras. Blazes are also reported in Bulgaria and Albania. High-temperature warnings have been issued in North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, and parts of Romania and Serbia.

    The EU has issued its highest fire risk alert to places in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and parts of North Africa. Further east, a large fire broke out on Thursday in Lebanon, where one person has died.

    “The risk is very high right now,” Parrington said. “We could start to see more fires in the coming weeks if these temperatures continue.”

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