Forest fires destroy 10,000 hectares in Turkey’s Antalya, one dead

Forest fires destroy 10,000 hectares in Turkey’s Antalya, one dead

3 August 2008

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Turkey — A villager burnt to death and dozens were left homeless as a major forest fire raged Saturday in the Mediterranean province of Antalya, Turkey’s main tourist hub, officials and media reports said.

The fire, which broke out Friday and was fanned by strong winds, destroyed part of the village of Karatas, burning down about 60 houses, Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu said.

The security forces recovered the remains of a man in the wreckage of a house, the minister told the state-run Anatolian Agency later.

The victim was believed to be one of two elderly villagers who had been reported missing since Friday. The villagers earlier said two people were missing and some 60 houses were destroyed in the blaze.

The blaze, which destroyed about 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of woodlands, broke out most probably after winds reaching up to 70 kilometers per hour (43.5 miles per hour) tore down power lines, Eroglu said in televised remarks in Antalya.

“I have dealt my whole life with fires but I have never seen a sight like this…,” Mustafa Kurtulmuslu, deputy general manager of Turkey’s forestry directorate, told the Anatolian Agency. “I can … say that we are experiencing a catastrophe.”

About 1,300 people, helped by fire-fighting helicopters and airplanes, were battling the blaze that raged between Serik district and the coastal town of Manavgat, where several large holiday villages are located.

Aircrafts dropped loads of water to douse the flames amid a thick pall of smoke hanging over the Mediterranean hillsides in what one official described as the worst fire Antalya province had ever faced.

Eroglu said the fire was likely to be brought under control later Saturday when the wind was expected to moderate. However meteorology reports suggest the wind would be accelerated in the afternoon.

Devastated villagers complained of a slow government response, saying they were left alone as the flames engulfed their homes, barns, greenhouses and fields.

“No one helped us… What I have left is a single cow. I have neither a house nor clothes,” a weeping woman from Karatas, Ayse Coban, told Anatolian Agency.

“Whatever we managed to save, we saved on our own. On top of everything our water was cut and we had to draw water from the wells to throw at the flames,” another villager, Abdi Simsek, told broadcaster NTV.

Eroglu said the government would pay the villagers compensation, while the Turkish Red Crescent and non-government groups sent humanitarian supplies to the region.

Several nearby villages were also evacuated.

Antalya has some of the richest remains of Greek civilisation in Turkey and is the nation’s top tourist destination receiving about 7 million tourists each year, mostly during the summer period.

The blaze had threatened a major historical site, the ancient Greek amphitheatre of Aspendos, but officials said Saturday that the danger was over as the wind changed direction.

Holiday villages on the Mediterranean coast were not endangered either.

Antalya is home to some of Turkeys richest historical sites and is the countrys primary tourist destination, attracting about seven million foreigners each year.

Forest fires are common in Turkey as well as other Mediterranean countries during hot and arid summer months, sparked mostly by negligent residents.

The blaze in Antalya was one of 16 forest fires that erupted across Turkey in the past several days, Eroglu said, adding that all others were brought under control.

 The Turkish authorities usually also consider the possibility of sabotage. In 2006, a terrorist group claimed responsibility for a series of fires in southern and western Turkey.

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