Firefighters in Turkey fought for a fourth day on Saturday to contain dozens of forest fires as rapidly spreading fires forced the evacuation of popular resorts and dozens of rural areas along the Mediterranean coast.
The fires, which authorities say may have been caused by arson or human negligence, killed at least six people and injured about 200 others on Saturday, officials said.
When tourists were forced to flee hotels, some on boats, as the flames drew closer, rural residents watched the fires burn down their homes, kill their livestock and destroy their businesses.
“Our lungs burn, our future burns,” said Muhittin Bocek, the mayor of Antalya, a holiday town, in a telephone interview from the devastated city of Manavgat, about 80 kilometers east of the coast.
The flames are part of a broader pattern of forest fires ravaging the Mediterranean this summer, with areas in Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Italy and Cyprus also battling fast-paced fires.
They’re also the latest in a string of extreme weather events around the world – from deadly floods in Europe and China to raging fires in the United States, Canada, and Siberia – that scientists believe may be related to climate change due to global changes Are associated with warming.
Cagatay Tavsanoglu, a biology professor specializing in fire ecology at Hacettepe University in Ankara, said fires in the Mediterranean area happen annually, but the magnitude of the fires that year should serve as a warning.
“Many fires could not be extinguished and under the influence of dry winds they burned too quickly,” said Tavsanoglu. “These are just the first signs of what climate change would do to the Mediterranean in the future.”
For models showing a global temperature increase of three degrees Celsius (or an additional 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the upper end of the forecast, the average area burning in southern Europe would double each year, according to a research paper published in 2018 in Nature was published.
And even if the warming stays below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, 40 percent more land could burn, the researchers warned.
Cyprus suffered some of the worst fires in decades this summer, killing at least four people. Authorities in Greece this week evacuated areas north of Athens as forest fires threatened homes near the capital. And in Italy, the island of Sardinia experienced “an unprecedented disaster” this month, the region’s authorities said.
In Lebanon, where the state has basically ceased to function and the authorities took little action this summer to avoid the fires, a teenager died this week as the fires spread to the north of the country and Syria.
July 30, 2021, 9:35 p.m. ET
In the Akkar district, videos shared online showed dystopian scenes of the fires that spread through the woods on Wednesday. Firefighters, the Lebanese military, civil protection officials and volunteers have worked to contain them.
The fires worsened the suffering of many people in Lebanon, who live with daily shortages of fuel and medicine, countless power outages and the aftermath of an unprecedented financial crisis.
More than 100 communities are exposed to a high risk of forest fire, said the Lebanese agricultural research institute this week.
In Turkey, the fires broke out on Wednesday in Manavgat, a city in the southern province of Antalya. As of Friday, there were fires in more than 70 other locations across the country, said the Turkish Forestry Directorate.
Some of the fires were brought under control, but three people died in Manavgat and a fourth in Marmaris, another popular resort.
The fires also spread to the resort of Bodrum, where at least two hotels were evacuated.
The Turkish authorities are still investigating the cause of the fires, but on Thursday the government’s communications director Fahrettin Altun called them an “attack”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said police and intelligence officers were investigating arson allegations. “You can’t dismiss that,” Erdogan said to reporters in Istanbul on Friday. “Because it is almost at the same time, in different places.”
Turkey has used around 4,000 firefighters, hundreds of vehicles and three aircraft to fight fires, according to Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli.
However, for some local residents, the response has been slow and inadequate.
“Does the Turkish Republic only have three planes?” A Manavgat resident yelled at Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu when he visited the city on Thursday evening.
Mr. Cavusoglu spoke against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery, and earlier in the day televisions showed entire districts left empty and smoking, full of charred houses under orange skies.
Mr. Bocek, the mayor of Antalya, said every fourth neighborhood in Manavgat must be evacuated.
In a community that is heavily dependent on agriculture and ranching, most residents are still not allowed to return home because the fires are not under control.
According to Turkish media reports, a crowd attacked two people under high tension on Thursday, accusing them of starting the fires. When the military police stepped in to protect the two, a mob tried to bring them back to no avail.
While in some places the anger boiled, in others there had been no time to ponder who should be to blame.
“When the flames came over us, we could only save the cow,” said Nuray Canbolat, a resident of Kozan district in southern Adana province, in a television interview with the state news agency Anadolu. “We just saved our lives.”