AFP/Reuters/ Manavgat, Turkey
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.
More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that 14 were still burning.
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.
“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 realised 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.”
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 it was brought 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 neighbourhoods 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.
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