Deadly wildfire encircles Turkish power plant

Published August 4, 2021
Night sky turns orange as Turkey's wildfires rage on at the shores of Cokertme village near Bodrum. — Reuters/File
Night sky turns orange as Turkey's wildfires rage on at the shores of Cokertme village near Bodrum. — Reuters/File

HISARONU: Roaring blazes encircled a Turkish thermal power plant on Tuesday and forced farmers to herd panicked cattle toward the sea, as wildfires that have killed eight people raged for a seventh day.

The nation of 84 million has been transfixed in horror as the most destructive wildfires in generations erase pristine forests and rich farmland across swaths of Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

Tourists have been forced to escape on boats for safety and dozens of villages have been evacuated as wild winds and soaring heat fan the flames.

Eyewitnesses said they saw farmers pulling their screaming animals out of burning barns and shepherding them to the relative safety of the beach in the Aegean city of Hisaronu.

“The fire happened in an instant,” local farmer Mevlut Tarim said after managing to pull some of his panicked herd through pitch-black smoke and patches of burning turf encircling his farm.

“One of my cows died. It burned,” he added. “I had never seen anything like it. You can’t even call it a fire. It was really like a bomb.”

Officials in neighbouring Greece have blamed two blazes on the island of Rhodes and the Peloponnese peninsula on a record heatwave they link to climate change.

Hundreds of firefighters, water-bombing planes and helicopters were battling forest fires near Athens, that have already forced the evacuation of villages and closed a section of the main motorway there.

In south and central Albania, a heat wave sparked dozens of forest fires over the last week, with the first death reported on Tuesday.

A 64-year-old man died and his wife was seriously injured when they were trapped by a forest fire around their home in the southern region of Gjirokastra, near the Greek border, said police.

Power station threatened

Temperatures higher than 40 degrees Celsius across the south of Turkey have set off a record surge in electricity use that caused power outages on Monday in cities such as Ankara and Istanbul.

But Muhammet Tokat, mayor of the Aegean coast city of Milas, said he was more worried about an uncontrolled fire threatening the local thermal power plant.

Tokat posted an increasingly urgent series of tweets showing the blazes spreading up a hill toward the presumed location of the plant.

He later reported briefing Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on the unfolding crisis before sheltering with other local officials by the beach.

Tokat is a member of Turkey’s main opposition party and one of a growing chorus of voices critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the disaster.

Erdogan came in for a torrent of abuse and ridicule on social media for tossing out bags of tea to confused locals while visiting the affected region under heavy police escort last weekend.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2021

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