Wildfires force Turkish cities to bar entry to forests and parks

More than 60 locations have reported blazes in a matter of days.
More than 60 locations have reported blazes in a matter of days.PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Major Turkish cities including Istanbul barred people from entering nearby forests and national parks after a spate of wildfires overwhelmed firefighters and claimed four lives.

The decision by Turkey's largest city and some others came as flames raged through forests along the country's southern Mediterranean coast and further inland. In one popular tourism spot, Manavgat, more than 2,300 homes were affected with thousands of residents evacuated, state media reported.

More than 60 locations have reported blazes in a matter of days, prompting an investigation into possible sabotage.

This week's wildfires are the worst since 2019, when Turkish officials accused a group linked to the Kurdish militant group PKK, which has been engaged in a decades-long struggle for autonomy with security forces, of starting forest fires.

But scientists warn they may well have been caused by hot and dry weather, with much of Turkey facing near-record high temperatures.

Meanwhile, Turkish firefighters made progress on Friday containing the deadly wildfires that forced the evacuation of entire villages and Mediterranean coast hotels already reeling from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

Blazes that erupted on Wednesday to the east of tourist hotspot Antalya on Turkey’s scenic southern shores have officially killed four people and injured nearly 200.

The blazes have also threatened to scare off tourists who had only just started to return to Turkey in what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hoped would be a boon for the developing country’s fragile economy.

The soaring flames turned summer skies blood orange over luxury hotels and villages dotting rolling hills that have been parched by another dry summer.

They had spread by Thursday evening to the Aegean Sea on Turkey’s western coast and spanned a region stretching 300km and covering most of the country’s top resorts.

Local resident Gulen Dede Tekin came to a five-star hotel in the coastal city of Marmaris on Thursday morning and at first thought nothing of the fires raging beyond the hills.

“In the evening, we realised how serious things were when they cut off the electricity and the ventilation at the hotel,” Tekin told AFP.

“This morning, we woke up to a rain of ash.”

The government said 57 of the 71 fires had been contained or entirely put out by Friday.

“The situation is improving in all active fires,” Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli told reporters during a visit to the affected region.