Turkey has faced the worst forest fires in its history, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday as the blaze spreads through a power plant in the southeast of the country after burning swathes of coastal forest to ashes .
Fueled by high temperatures and a strong, dry wind, the flames forced thousands of people, including Turks and foreign tourists, to leave their homes and hotels on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts – at least eight have died since last week.
In the southwest of the country, the fire reached a coal-fired power plant on Tuesday (3), said Muhammet Tokat, mayor of the city of Milas, adding that the plant had been evacuated. Earlier, environmentalists had warned of the impact of the fire spreading to the site’s storage facility. “Harmful gases can spread through the atmosphere if coal burns uncontrollably,” activist Deniz Gumusel said.
Tanks containing flammable materials that were at the plant were emptied as a precaution and ditches were dug in an attempt to prevent the flames from spreading further, according to the Demiroren news agency.
Planes from Spain, Croatia, Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, along with dozens of helicopters, joined emergency ground teams to fight the fires. The Europeans sent teams after the Turkish government asked for reinforcements.
Yet Erdogan faces criticism of the scale and speed of the response to the crisis. Opposition parties accuse the leadership of cutting back on firefighting resources over the years. Thousands of citizens have also taken to social networks to demand the resignation of the president, in addition to accusing of insufficient preparation to face the crisis. The government defended itself by saying that efforts to contain the blaze were planned and coordinated.
More than a week after the first outbreaks were recorded, 16 were still burning on Wednesday, authorities said. In the past two weeks, fires have affected an area three times the annual average, the European Fire Agency said.
Other countries in the region have also been affected by major fires, and the European Commission has mobilized its efforts to help fight it. Planes, helicopters and firefighters will be sent to Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia.
In Greece, the worst heatwave in 30 years caused several fires, including one outside the capital, Athens, which forced the evacuation of 300 people. On the island of Euboea, 200 km from the capital, a dozen villages and a monastery were then surrounded by the flames of an uncontrollable fire, according to firefighters.
In the country, two firefighting planes from Cyprus are providing support, as well as a firefighting team tasked with strengthening operations on the ground, the EU executive said in a statement.
Two planes from France were also bound for the affected areas in Italy, adds the text. In addition, two helicopters to support operations in Albania will be made available by the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Slovenia will send a team of 45 firefighters to North Macedonia. Sweden has also announced the shipment of two planes.
Aid is articulated within the EU Civil Defense Mechanism, and the European Commission covers at least 75% of transport costs. “We are working day and night to send aid as fires are wreaking havoc in Europe,” EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said, thanking contributing countries.
“The European Union Civil Protection ensures that all our firefighting tools are used in the best possible way. This is a great example of the solidarity of the European Union in times of need.”
Flames also hit the west coast of the United States and Canada, while unprecedented heavy rains hit Germany and China.
According to experts, the increase in global temperatures resulting from human activity generates a build-up of energy in the atmosphere which dissipates through extreme weather events, which tend to become increasingly powerful and frequent.