As residents and tourists flee, Turkey strives to extinguish wildfires

Turkey update

The Turkish government said on Sunday that after a series of fires near its Mediterranean coastline killed 6 people and forced thousands of residents and foreign tourists to flee the resort, Turkey has controlled more than 100 wildfires.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said in comments on Twitter and in official media reports that wind speeds of 50 kilometers per hour, low humidity and temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius make it difficult to control fires.

Pakdemirli said that the fire started on July 28, and the simultaneous occurrence of so many fires aroused suspicion that they might be deliberate arson, although he did not provide evidence of arson.

According to official Russian media reports, the Russian Consulate in Antalya said in a statement that about 100 Russian nationals were evacuated from the Bodrum Peninsula in western Turkey on Saturday and moved to hotels elsewhere. Local tourists were also evacuated and some were forced to leave at sea because the fire cut off other escape routes.

Flights from Russia, Turkey’s largest source of tourists, resumed only in late June, after Moscow suspended charter flights due to a record outbreak of Covid-19 in Turkey in the spring. The travel restrictions on Turkey related to the coronavirus have hit its tourism industry hard, which directly and indirectly accounts for about 13% of GDP.

Villagers water the trees to stop the wildfires that continue to raging in the Manavgat forest in Antalya, Turkey © AP

According to the Ministry of Forestry website, there were at least 15 fires on Sunday. According to Turkish media reports, the six victims included villagers and forestry workers. The mayor of the resort town of Marmaris, Mehmet Oktay, said that a series of fires broke out on more than 10,000 hectares of land near the town, killing one volunteer firefighter and injuring another 100 people.

He said that six fires continued to burn most of the areas inaccessible by road, and the number of fires across Turkey meant that there were not enough firefighting aircraft available. “This is heartbreaking, and I hold back my tears and focus on the emergency at hand. It will take more than ten years to restore this land,” he said.

Thousands of farm animals and countless wild animals also lost their lives in the fire. A meteorologist estimated that the fire reached 200 degrees Celsius.

Wildfires occur every year in the pine forests of southwestern Turkey. An expert told CNN Turkish TV that 95% of wildfires are caused deliberately or accidentally.

However, the scale of the current fire is staggering, and some people blame climate change for the disaster. Turkey set the highest temperature ever recorded in a town in the southeast last month. This year most of the country suffered from drought, and last month there was a deadly flood in northeastern Turkey.

This summer, several other Mediterranean countries are fighting the fires, including Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and Italy. Scientists say that the extreme weather events that occurred around the world this summer may be the result of global warming.

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