© Reuters. A firefighting helicopter sprays water to put out a wildfire near the town of Marmaris, in Turkey’s Mugla province, on June 23, 2022. REUTERS/Kenan Gurbuz
By Berna Suleymanoglu and Birsen Altayli
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Firefighters battled wildfires in southwestern Turkey for a third straight day on Friday, as city officials warned that state authorities were unprepared even after last year’s devastating fires showed a lack of planes and personnel.
The sight of burning woodlands near the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris since Tuesday has sparked fears of fires that burned about 140,000 hectares (345,950 acres) in the area last year.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been criticized by local residents and opposition parties for being unprepared to fight last year’s fires. It responded that the wildfires were the worst in Turkish history.
Officials in Marmaris, which experienced the worst fires last year, and the nearby resort of Bodrum, said the government was not fully prepared this year either.
Marmaris City Council member Ali Kirli said last year’s fires should be seen as a “warning flare” to better prepare for this summer.
“Fire season is coming, but there are no planes in the air and no workers on the ground,” he told Reuters ahead of the fire on Tuesday.
“Firefighting planes and helicopters should be bought and a fleet built.”
Marmaris Mayor Mehmet Oktay said that as of May, a helicopter had been allocated to the area and asked for an increase. Since the fire started, he has asked night vision helicopters to put out the blaze at night, a request also echoed by Bodrum Mayor Ahmed Arras.
In written responses to questions from Reuters, Arras also said aircraft should be deployed to the area and fire brigade reinforced.
The government has denied allegations of unpreparedness this year, with Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu accusing the opposition of spreading lies. Kirli, Oktay and Aras are all from the opposition CHP.
The Forest Service’s budget increased 220 percent from last year to 2.4 billion lire ($138.15 million), and officials said the night-vision helicopters would be delivered in July.
Last year, the government had to use planes leased from abroad because the planes it usually relied on locally were out of operation due to lack of maintenance.
Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said Turkey had so far rejected aid offers from several countries, but Qatar sent three helicopters and Azerbaijan an amphibious aircraft.
This year’s fires have damaged more than 3,400 hectares of woodland. 29 people were affected by the fire and 274 people were evacuated.
A man who burst into flames out of frustration over family issues has been arrested, authorities said.
Kirisi said Thursday of the fires that “the problem is largely resolved” but strong winds are expected in the area in the afternoon. He said 61 helicopters, 13 planes and about 3,800 personnel were working to put out the blaze.
The European Union’s atmospheric monitors said last summer’s wildfires were the most violent in Turkey on record. Human-caused climate change is making heatwaves more likely and severe, scientists say.
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(This story was resubmitted to fix the typo in the first paragraph)