Wildfires in southern Turkey force more residents to flee homes

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Wildfires in southern Turkey forced more people to flee their homes on Sunday as pressure on the government grew over its response to the deadly forest fires.

Turkey has suffered the worst fires in at least a decade, official data show, with nearly 95,000 hectares (235,000 acres) burned so far this year, compared with an average of 13,516 at this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

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Since the fires broke out Wednesday, six people have died and more than 330 have received medical treatment.

A neighborhood in the tourist city of Bodrum was evacuated, CNN Turk broadcaster reported, as flames were fanned by strong winds from Milas district nearby.

Unable to leave by road, 540 residents were taken to hotels by boats, the channel said.

There were more evacuations in the village of Sirtkoy in Antalya province, NTV broadcaster reported, with images of grey smoke clouds enveloping homes.

A man stands in front of his burnt house during a wildfire near Marmaris, Turkey, July 31, 2021. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)
A man stands in front of his burnt house during a wildfire near Marmaris, Turkey, July 31, 2021. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said 107 of 112 forest fires were now under control, but blazes continued in the holiday regions of Antalya and Mugla.

Temperatures are set to remain high in the region after record levels last month.

The general directorate of meteorology registered a temperature of 49.1 degrees Celsius (120.3 Fahrenheit) on July 20 in the southeastern town of Cizre.

The mercury is expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Antalya Monday.

Turkey’s defence ministry released satellite images showing the extent of the damage with forest areas turned black and smoke still visible.

The opposition attacked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Saturday after a video showed the leader throwing tea to residents in fire-affected areas.

In another video, he is throwing tea to people on the side of the road from a bus.

“Tea! It’s unbelievable. Those who lose their shame, lose their heart too,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) spokesman Faik Oztrak tweeted.

The government has also been criticized over the lack of firefighting planes, with Turkey forced to accept help from Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Ukraine.

Experts warn climate change will wreak further damage in Turkey, causing more wildfires if necessary measures to tackle the problem are not taken.

According to European Union figures, Turkey has been hit by 133 wildfires in 2021 so far compared to an average of 43 by this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

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