Death toll rises to eight as wildfires rage in southern Turkey

Residents and tourists evacuated as resorts of Antalya and Mugla threatened by fires

Tourists wait to be evacuated from the  smoke-engulfed Mazi area as wildfires rolled down the hill toward the seashore, in Bodrum, in Mugla, on Sunday. Photograph: Emre Tazegul/AP Photo

Tourists wait to be evacuated from the smoke-engulfed Mazi area as wildfires rolled down the hill toward the seashore, in Bodrum, in Mugla, on Sunday. Photograph: Emre Tazegul/AP Photo

 

Wildfires continued to rage on Sunday near Turkey’s holiday beach destinations of Antalya and Mugla as the discovery of more bodies caused the death toll to rise to eight.

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 on social media for more help, 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 42 degrees Celsius, five to six degrees higher than seasonal averages.

Earlier on Sunday, police water cannon, 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 minister for health, 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.

Tourists leave Turunc, in the Marmaris district of Mugla province, by boat on Sunday due to wildfires. Photograph: Erdem Sahin/EPA
Tourists leave Turunc, in the Marmaris district of Mugla province, by boat on Sunday due to wildfires. Photograph: Erdem Sahin/EPA

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

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.

Climate crisis

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

Erdogan said on Saturday that one of the fires had been started by children.

A heatwave 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 television that a home for elderly people in Pescara had to be evacuated.

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

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. – AP