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Turkey reels from wildfire impact

Serkan Ocak
August 9, 2021

Raging forest fires in southern Turkey have caused huge devastation, with many people losing their homes and possessions — and some their lives. DW reporter Serkan Ocak reports from the region.

A burnt-out car in front of a house that has also been ravaged by fire
The village of Kalemler in Antalya was heavily damaged by the blazesImage: Serkan Ocak

Muhtar Cansiz is the village head in Kalemler, a hamlet of 250 people in Antalya province near the town of Manavgat. The region bore the brunt of the destruction caused by fast-spreading wildfires that have ravaged the south of the country for nearly two weeks amid scorching heat, low humidity and constantly shifting strong winds.

"A hundred and fifty houses once stood here. After the flames reached our village, 67 of them burned down," Muhtar Cansiz says.

Muhtar Cansiz
Muhtar Cansiz, head of Kalemler village, says it wasn't possible to save thouses from the fast-moving flamesImage: Serkan Ocak/DW

Visibly upset, Cansiz talks about how quickly his village was consumed by the fire. "It took only a few minutes for numerous houses to ignite. It was pointless trying to intervene. Houses, olive groves, animals and tractors turned to ash in no time." A German-Turkish couple could not save themselves; they were found dead in their burnt-out house.

The fires, which broke out in more than 100 places in southern Turkey, have killed at least nine people. Most of the blazes have been gradually brought under control, but in about a dozen places, especially in the provinces of Mugla, Aydin and Isparta, they continue to threaten the population.

Fathers remain behind

The intensity of the wildfires caught many by surprise. Many villages were evacuated, and residents who stayed behind were often helpless in the face of the flames. Often the fathers in families sent their parents, wives and children to their relatives. They themselves stayed back in the village, trying to save their belongings from the flames and risking their lives in the process.

 Mehmet Uysal gesturing in an almost empty cattle shed
Mehmet Uysal came too late to save his whole herd of cattleImage: Serkan Ocak/DW

One of them was Mehmet Uysal. His face, arms and legs are marked by burns. He sustained the injuries while trying to bring his animals to safety. But Uysal was only able to save two-thirds of his 150 cattle from the flames; it was too late for his sheep, lambs and dog. The farmer nevertheless remains combative. "I got burned. If the flames come back, I will gladly burn myself again," he says.

'I've never seen a fire like this before'

The high-altitude, mountainous region of Milas in the Aegean province of Mugla has also been scorched by the forest fires. Bozalan, a 37-year-old forester in Milas, looks down at a hillside where charred olive trees can be seen. With tears in his eyes, he falls to his knees. "I have never seen a fire like this in my entire life," he says in a low voice.

Burning olive trees
Burning olive trees are particularly hard to extinguishImage: Serkan Ocak/DW

The flames have caused considerable damage in the village. There was also fear of explosions and the release of toxic gases when the fire threatened to engulf the coal-fired Kemerkoy power plant near Milas. In the event, the plant was not irreparably damaged, and officials said no noxious substances were released. 

Anger grows over government response

Whether in Kalemler, Oren or Milas, the wildfires have affected residents in different ways and to varying degrees. But what unites them is a growing anger with many blaming the government for not responding fast enough to fight the fires.

Smoke rising from behind some houses
The fires approached the Kemerkoy power plant, causing officials to evacuate some 2,000 peopleImage: Hande Nayman/DHA

Many say the government deployed water-bombing planes too late to extinguish the blazes. Some also suspect that the fires were deliberately started though there is no evidence yet of arson.

Despite the staggering losses and suffering, there is a glimmer of hope in the affected villages — the fire died down last Friday. However, a return of harsh Aegean winds could rekindle the flames and lead to further destruction.

This article was translated from a German version of the Turkish original.

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