In Turkey, violent fires catch government by surprise



Under a blazing sun, men stretched out, their faces blackened by soot. These images of exhausted firefighters have been circulating since June 28 in Turkey, when a series of fires of unprecedented magnitude hit all of Anatolia, from the shores of the Aegean Sea to the depths of Turkish Kurdistan.

→ REPORT. Climate: drought ravages wheat fields in southeastern Turkey

At least 129 fires were under control, Monday, August 2. On the other hand, between seven and nine of the main foci remained active in four provinces. The west coast, in particular, dotted with seaside resorts and hotspots for summer tourism, is the region most affected.

Heat record beaten

A year of unprecedented droughts and temperatures, 2021 is by far the worst fire season. The national heat record was broken on July 20 in Cizre, in Turkish Kurdistan, in the south of the country, where the mercury exceeded 49 ° C. Nearly 95,000 hectares have burned since January, most in recent weeks, according to official data, against 13,516 hectares on average, at this stage of the year, from 2008 to 2020.

This trend, largely attributed to climate change, has worsened over the years. Already in 2020, nearly 3,400 fires had broken out, compared to an average of 2,600 in recent decades, according to Ahmet Husrev Ozkara of the Turkish Foresters Association.

Crisis management criticized

It prevents. The government is accused for its procrastination. For no apparent reason, the Turkish authorities reportedly initially refused support from Canadian airplanes and firefighters from the European Union, Israel and Greece, but accepted help from water bombers sent by Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

After declaring that the Turkish canadairs had taken off, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted that they had remained grounded, while blaming the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK), in charge of these aircraft. According to the organization, bankrupt since the collapse of the Turkish lira in 2019, it is the lack of funds granted by the state that prevents aircraft maintenance. Its administrator, Cenap Asci, estimates at 4 million pounds (400 000 €) the cost necessary for the canadairs to be operational again.

For lack of anything better, in places, concrete mixers and trucks were used to bring water to where the firefighters were overwhelmed. Desperate Turks were seen throwing five-liter jerry cans of water on the flames. On the spot, the news is exchanged on WhatsApp channels opened in emergency in the municipalities threatened by the flames. Several hundred vacationers had to be evacuated from the beaches by boat near Bodrum on July 31, under an orange sky of the end of the world.

Controversial tea boxes

Pressed by the turn of the fires, Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to Marmaris, a burnt town on the Turkish Riviera, on Saturday, July 31, from where he promised to rebuild the damaged homes as soon as possible. The president once again accused a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of being behind the fires. An unlikely hypothesis given the scale of the fires this year.

“People feel abandoned. The government prefers to justify itself and spread its conspiratorial theories rather than take care of our forests, deplores Koray Dogan Urbarli, of the opposition environmentalist Yesiller party. Turkey is very sensitive to climate change, cThe fires were expected. It would have been necessary to take measures on the spot to avoid departures. “

From the bus where he was traveling, Recep Tayyip Erdogan threw boxes of tea in the direction of the victims as a sign of support. The episode caused a lot of reaction. “Afiyet olsun (bon appétit), taunts a young Turkish woman contacted via social networks. With these black tea bags, we are saved. “

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Southern Europe under the heatwave and fires

The fires start one after the other on the Mediterranean coast, in Greece, Italy and Spain. East of Madrid, firefighters are battling a fire near the San Juan reservoir. After Sardinia, Italy recorded more than 800 fire starts last weekend in its southern regions, in particular Sicily, but also Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria. The heatwave, which has continued for months in some areas, complicates the task of firefighters, the vegetation being dried out. The heat wave is set to peak on Tuesday, with temperatures ranging from 40 ° C on the Turkish coast to 45 ° C in the Peloponnese.

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