Istanbul, 5 August 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Thousands of ground personnel, backed by firefighter planes, drones and helicopters, were striving to tackle massive wildfires across seven cities and provinces in southern Turkey as one large power plant narrowly escaped bursting into flames on Wednesday.
The blazes, growing with strong winds and heat, have been ravaging Turkey’s southern coastline for more than a week, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate and destroying hundreds of buildings, livestock and property.
In Mugla’s Milas district, the flames were stopped thanks to firefighter planes at the last minute from reaching a coal-fired power plant on Wednesday, local authorities told dpa.
The fire was initially stopped late Tuesday, however it resumed on Wednesday as strong winds reignited it after planes left the area, a spokesperson for Milas city told dpa.
“The fire threatening the Kemerkoy plant is now contained,” the spokesperson said.
Private news agency Demiroren earlier said tanks with flammable materials were emptied while local media said personnel was evacuated from the 630-megawatt plant.
The Kemerkoy plant, along with a nearby sister facility, has over 2,000 employees and meets 5 percent of Turkey’s annual power demand, according to the firm’s website.
Turkey has been battling 174 wildfires across 39 cities and provinces, the government said on Wednesday, adding a total of 16 fires remained uncontained.
In the southern tourism hotspot of Mugla alone, more than 16,000 people were evacuated and around 2,000 buildings destroyed, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said late on Tuesday, according to state news agency Anadolu.
The latest blazes are the worst since 2008, when a massive fire hit the southern city of Antalya, Doganay Tolunay, a forest engineer at Istanbul University, told dpa by phone.
The number of forest fires per year in Turkey has more than doubled since the 1980s, Tolunay said, adding that authorities had failed to take necessary precautions against potential new fires.
Criticism and anger against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government meanwhile surged with people on social media calling for the president’s resignation due to the lack of preparedness and late response to fires.
The opposition parties blamed the government for leaving several state-owned firefighter planes idle at an airport in Ankara.
“When are we going to use these planes if not now … Our lungs are burning,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Ahmet Kaya said in a video on Twitter, in front of the firefighter planes parked at the Ankara airport.
Firefighting planes from Croatia, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan have joined the rescue efforts.