Deadly wildfire encircles Turkish power plant

Deadly wildfire encircles Turkish power plant
4 min read
The nation of 84 million has been transfixed in horror as the most destructive wildfires in generations erase pristine forests and rich farmland across swaths of Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.
Hundreds of firefighters, water-bombing planes and helicopters were battling forest fires near Athens [Getty]

Roaring blazes encircled a Turkish thermal power plant on Tuesday and forced farmers to herd panicked cattle toward the sea, as wildfires that have killed eight people raged for a seventh day.

The nation of 84 million has been transfixed in horror as the most destructive wildfires in generations erase pristine forests and rich farmland across swaths of Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

Tourists have been forced to escape on boats for safety and dozens of villages have been evacuated as wild winds and soaring heat fan the flames.

An AFP team in the Aegean city of Hisaronu saw farmers pulling their screaming animals out of burning barns and shepherding them to the relative safety of the beach.

"The fire happened in an instant," local farmer Mevlut Tarim said after managing to pull some of his panicked herd through pitch-black smoke and patches of burning turf encircling his farm.

"One of my cows died. It burned," he added. "I had never seen anything like it. You can't even call it a fire. It was really like a bomb."

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Blazes across the region

Officials in neighbouring Greece have blamed two blazes on the island of Rhodes and the Peloponnese peninsula on a record heatwave they link to climate change.

Hundreds of firefighters, water-bombing planes and helicopters were battling forest fires near Athens, that have already forced the evacuation of villages and closed a section of the main motorway there.

In south and central Albania, a heatwave sparked dozens of forest fires over the last week, with the first death reported on Tuesday.

A 64-year-old man died and his wife was seriously injured when they were trapped by a forest fire around their home in the southern region of Gjirokastra, near the Greek border, said police.

Police and soldiers in the region began evacuating three villages there, and at least 500 soldiers, firefighters and three helicopters were fighting fires in the southern Albanian region of Vlora.

Italy and Spain have also had to battle recent forest fires. And in northern Europe, Finland has been battling its worst blaze in half a century.

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Power station threatened

Temperatures higher than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Farenheit) across the south of Turkey have set off a record surge in electricity use that caused power outages Monday in cities such as Ankara and Istanbul.

But Muhammet Tokat, mayor of the Aegean coast city of Milas, said he was more worried about an uncontrolled fire threatening the local thermal power plant.

Tokat posted an increasingly urgent series of tweets showing the blazes spreading up a hill toward the presumed location of the plant.

He later reported briefing Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on the unfolding crisis before sheltering with other local officials by the beach.

Tokat is a member of Turkey's main opposition party and one of a growing chorus of voices critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's response to the disaster.

Erdogan came in for a torrent of abuse and ridicule on social media for tossing out bags of tea to confused locals while visiting the affected region under heavy police escort last weekend.

He also tweeted a message of thanks to "all friendly countries" after being criticised for being slow or unwilling to accept foreign offers of help.

Many Turks turn to social media for news after a crackdown that followed a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan saw top TV channels and newspapers fall under government influence.

Erdogan's media aide Fahrettin Altun warned that "information spread on social media platforms, instant messaging groups and forums is fake news" designed to make Turkey look weak.

And HaberTurk television released a letter from the media regulator telling broadcasters they might be fined if they continue airing live footage of the fires and running stories "that provoke fear and worries in the public".

The government said on Tuesday it had contained 147 fires and was still fighting nine.

Turkey's defence and interior ministers said they were mobilising their forces to help firefighters.

But the mayor of Milas suggested help was arriving too late.

"It was obvious that this would happen," he tweeted as the fire neared the power plant. "I am going to cry in anger."