Turkish Coast Guard helps evacuate tourists as wildfire death toll rises

Panicked tourists in Turkey rushed to the coast on Saturday to wait for lifeboats after they were told to evacuate some hotels in the Aegean resort town of Bodrum due to the dangers of nearby wildfires, Turkish media reported.

Coast Guard units led the operation and authorities asked private boats and yachts to assist in the evacuation from the sea as new wildfires broke out. Video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill close to the shore.

The death toll from wildfires in Turkish Mediterranean cities rose to six on Saturday after two forest workers were killed, the country’s health minister said. Fires across Turkey since Wednesday have burned down forests and some settlements, entered villages and tourist destinations and forced people to evacuate.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on Saturday that 88 of the 98 fires that broke out amid high winds and scorching heat had been brought under control. Fire-affected neighborhoods in five provinces have been declared disaster areas by the Turkish Emergency and Disaster Authority.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the area on Saturday and inspected the damage from a helicopter.

Speaking from the city of Manavgat, Erdogan announced that the Turkish government would cover the rents for the people affected by the fire and rebuild their homes. He said taxes, social security and credit payments would be deferred for those affected and small businesses would receive credit without interest.

“We can do nothing but wish the grace of God for the lives we have lost, but we can replace everything that has burned,” he said.

Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires has been increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel, as well as dozens of helicopters and drones have assisted the firefighting efforts.

At least five people have died in the fires in Manavgat and one in Marmaris. Both cities are located on the Mediterranean Sea and are tourist destinations.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat had been treated in hospitals and released, while 10 others were still hospitalized due to burns. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated in hospital and one person was still being treated for burns.

In the southern province of Hatay, flames engulfed populated areas, but were later apparently brought under control.

Wildfires are common in the Mediterranean and Aegean region of Turkey during the dry summer months. A heat wave in southern Europe, fueled by hot air from Africa, has sparked wildfires in the Mediterranean.

Blazes in Sicily

Firefighters in Sicily, Italy, fought dozens of fires fueled by high temperatures on Saturday, prompting the governor of the Rome region to ask for help. About 150 people trapped in two coastal areas in the city of Catania were evacuated by sea late Friday, where they were picked up by dinghies and transferred to Coast Guard boats.

Temperatures in Greece and nearby countries in southeastern Europe are expected to rise to 42 degrees Celsius (more than 107 Fahrenheit) in many cities and towns on Monday, before declining until later next week.

Turkey has attributed a number of previous wildfires to arson or has banned Kurdish militants. Erdogan said on Saturday that authorities are investigating the possibility of “sabotage” causing fires.

Tourism is a major source of income for Turkey, and entrepreneurs hoped this summer would be much more profitable than last year, when pandemic travel restrictions plunged tourism.

(AP)

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