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Depo Photos/ABACA
fighting fire

EU sends help to Turkey as wildfire death toll rises to eight

Residents and tourists had to be evacuated as the holiday resorts of Antalya and Mugla were threatened by the blazes.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Aug 2021

THE EUROPEAN UNION sent help to Turkey today and volunteers joined firefighters in battling a week of violent blazes that have killed eight people and put pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades come as a blistering heatwave grips southeastern Europe creating tinderbox conditions that Greek officials blame squarely on climate change.

The fires tearing through Turkey since last Wednesday have destroyed huge swathes of pristine forest and forced the evacuation of panicked tourists from seaside hotels.

But they have also exposed Erdogan – facing an election in two years that could extend his rule into a third decade – to a new round of criticism over his seemingly sluggish and out-of-touch response.

Wildfires have been raging near Turkey’s holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla as the discovery of more bodies caused the death toll to rise to eight as of yesterday.

Locals and tourists flee

Residents and tourists fled the danger in small boats while the coastguard and two navy ships waited out at sea in case a bigger evacuation was needed.

Authorities warned tourists and residents to keep evacuating Turunc, a town in the seaside resort of Marmaris in Mugla province. Fires enveloped the area and strong winds made firefighting efforts more difficult. A helicopter attempted to extinguish the blazes, which were unreachable by land.

As residents of villages around Marmaris pleaded for more help on social media, people boarded small boats carrying suitcases. Others waited anxiously to see if the fire would come down to the shore.

Turkish news agency DHA said the bodies of a Turkish-German couple were found in their burned home in Manavgat, Antalya, bringing the overall death toll to eight in the fires that began on Wednesday. Fires were also encroaching on a village near the town and villagers were evacuating in trucks.

High temperatures and strong winds were making matters worse. Antalya registered 42C, 5-6C higher than seasonal averages.

Water cannons

Earlier yesterday, police water cannons, usually used to control riots, helped helicopters and fire trucks in Mugla’s popular district of Bodrum to fight fires.

Turkish television showed fires had reignited after being extinguished earlier, with blazes and smoke approaching a village.

Civilians were trying to protect homes and olive groves but some houses were already damaged. Social media videos showed tourists in Bodrum scampering down streets rolling their luggage to escape the nearby flames.

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

The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, tweeted that 111 wildfires were “under control” across Turkey. His tweets showed that, since Wednesday, wildfires had ignited in 33 provinces.

Panic-stricken tourists were evacuated on Saturday from hotels in Bodrum as a fire rolled down the hill toward the seashore, including some 100 Russian tourists.

87b91024-3cbe-4d1a-9596-257755c41d97 A firefighter helicopter flies over the smoke-engulfed Mazi area PA PA

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday and promised to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticised him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that caused more traffic and for having bags of tea thrown from his bus to people gathered to hear him speak.

While Turkish authorities say they are investigating whether the fires may have started as “sabotage” by outlawed Kurdish militants, experts mostly point to the climate crisis, as seen by the drastic increases in temperatures, along with accidents caused by people.

Erdogan said Saturday that one of the fires was started by children.

A heat wave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including on the Italian island of Sicily and in western Greece, where some residents had to be evacuated by boat to escape the flames.

On Sunday afternoon, bathers on an Italian beach south of the Adriatic city of Pescara fled when they spotted towering clouds of smoke and flames from a fire in a nearby pine forest, the Italian news agency LaPresse said.

Several people were reportedly injured when they tried to put out wind-whipped flames that had reached their homes, it said. Local officials told state TV that a elderly home in Pescara had to be evacuated.

Temperatures in Turkey and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius by today in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius yesterday.

Meanwhile, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, floods over the weekend destroyed at least six houses after a small river overflowed amid heavy rains. Villagers were told to quickly leave their homes and climb to higher locations.

Floods in northern Turkey last month killed at least six people.

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