4 killed, more than 180 injured as forest fires rage near Turkish resorts

Published July 30, 2021
Dark smoke drifts over a hotel complex during a massive forest fire which engulfed a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat. — AFP
Dark smoke drifts over a hotel complex during a massive forest fire which engulfed a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat. — AFP

Four people were reported dead on Thursday and more than 180 injured as thousands of firefighters battled huge blazes spreading across the Mediterranean resort regions of Turkey's southern coast.

Officials also launched an investigation into suspicions that the fires that broke out on Wednesday in four locations to the east of the tourist hotspot Antalya were the result of arson.

Turkey's disaster and emergencies office said three people were killed — including an 82-year-old who lived alone.

The NTV channel later said a 25-year-old man died in Marmaris while trying to bring aid.

The fires first emerged across a sparsely populated region about 75 kilometres east of Antalya — a resort especially popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.

But they were creeping closer on Thursday to sandy beaches dotted with hotels and resorts.

Images on social media and Turkish TV showed residents jumping out of their cars and running for their lives through smoke-filled streets lit up by orange flames.

The heavy clouds of smoke turned the sky dark orange over a beachfront hotel complex in the town of Manavgat.

At least 183 people were hospitalised.

Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a hotel was also being evacuated near the tourist city of Bodrum — some 300 kilometres west of Antalya — as new fires broke out across the southern coast.

Pakdemirli said a total of 53 forest fires were reported in the country on Wednesday and Thursday, but that most of them had been brought under control. Three planes, 38 helicopters and some 4,000 firefighters were deployed to battle the blazes, he said.

The minister added that more than 1,000 farm animals perished while 1,500 acres of agricultural land and 120 acres of agricultural glasshouses were destroyed in Manavgat.

The country's AFAD disaster agency said that 36 wildfires had been contained, but firefighting efforts for the remaining 17 continued, with more than 140 people requiring treatment or suffering property damage.

Buildings including a hotel in the Aegean resort of Marmaris were evacuated due to the blaze, state broadcaster TRT Haber said. Footage showed two separate fires near residential areas in the Aegean summer hotspots of Bodrum, where another hotel was evacuated, and Didim.

Full mobilisation

The fires were raging with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius and wind gusts of 50 kilometres an hour.

But Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek said he suspected foul play because the fires started in four locations at once.

“This suggests an arson attack, but we do not have clear information about that at this stage,” Bocek said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation had already been launched.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidential communications director, also said “comprehensive investigations were [...] launched into the cause of the fires.”

“Those responsible will have to account for the attacks against nature and forests,” Altun said on Twitter.

The Russian embassy said Moscow had sent three giant firefighting aircraft to dump fire retardants on the burning forests to contain the flames.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told his Turkish counterpart that Greece, whose ties with its neighbour are tense, was “ready to help if needed,” the Turkish ministry said.

Azerbaijan also offered help.

More than 4,000 Turkish firefighters had been dispatched across the region to help contain the damage and search for people needing help.

They rescued 10 people on Thursday who were stranded on a boat in a lake that was surrounded by a burning forest.

“All of the state's means have been mobilised,” Environment Minister Murat Kurum said. “All our teams are in the field. “

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