Death toll rises to eight from forest fires in southern Turkey

Death toll rises to eight from forest fires in southern Turkey

Wildfires broke out on Sunday near Turkey’s holiday destinations on the beaches 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 Coast Guard and two Navy ships waited at sea in case a further evacuation was necessary.

Authorities warned tourists and residents to continue evacuating Turunc, a town in the seaside resort of Marmaris in Mugla province. Fires engulfed the area and strong winds hampered firefighting efforts. A helicopter tried to put out the flames, which were unreachable on the ground.

As residents of the villages around Marmaris called for more help on social media, people got into small boats with suitcases. Others waited anxiously to see if the fire made it to shore.

A firefighter helicopter flies over the smoke-shrouded Mazi area as wildfires descend the hill toward the seashore near Bodrum (AP Photo / Emre Tazegul)

The Turkish news agency DHA said the bodies of a Turkish-German couple were found in their burned-out home in Manavgat, Antalya, bringing the total death toll to eight in the fires that started on Wednesday. Fires were also invading a village near the city and villagers were evacuating in trucks.

Earlier on Sunday, police water cannons, generally used to control riots, helped helicopters and fire trucks in Mugla’s popular Bodrum district to fight the fires.

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

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

Villagers use a hose to soak trees in an attempt to stop the forest fires that continue to ravage the forests in Antalya (AP Photo)

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said at least 27 people affected by the fires were still receiving treatment in hospitals, while hundreds more had been released.

Forestry and Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli tweeted that 111 forest fires were “under control” in Turkey. His tweets showed that forest fires had been lit in 33 provinces since Wednesday.

Panicked tourists were evacuated from hotels in Bodrum on Saturday when a fire descended the hill towards the seashore, including about 100 Russian tourists.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured some of the affected areas on Saturday, vowing to help residents rebuild their homes. But social media users criticized him for arriving in Marmaris in a massive convoy that caused more traffic and for throwing tea bags from his bus at 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 primarily point to the climate crisis, as seen by drastic increases in temperatures, along with the accidents caused by people.

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

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

Temperatures in Turkey and neighboring countries in southeastern Europe are expected to rise to 42 degrees Celsius on Monday in many cities and towns. Antalya was already registering 41 degrees Celsius on Sunday.

Meanwhile, in eastern Turkey’s Van province, flooding 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 places.

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

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