Parts of Turkish resort city of Bodrum evacuated as fires spread

President announces relief measures for people who lost homes and businesses in the blazes

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Parts of the western Turkish resort of Bodrum were evacuated on Saturday as the death toll from bushfires in the country rose to six.

The owners of private boats and yachts were asked to help with the operation, which was led by the coast guard.

Video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill close to the shore.

Since Wednesday, forests and some settlements in Turkey have been razed, as strong winds and scorching heat fanned the flames.

Fires have encroached on villages and tourist resorts, forcing people to flee.

Plumes of smoke from a wildfire rises over a residential area in the holiday resort of Bodrum, Turkey on July 31, 2021.  Sevgin Ozkan via Reuters

The minister of agriculture and forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli, said 88 of the 98 fires that had broken out since Wednesday had been brought under control.

Neighbourhoods in five provinces were declared disaster zones by Turkey’s emergency and disaster authority.

The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said two forest workers had been killed, taking the death toll from the fires to six.

At least five people died in Manavgat, Antalya province, and one died in Marmaris. Both towns are tourist destinations on the Mediterranean.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people in Manavgat were treated in hospital and released, while 10 were admitted for further care. In Marmaris, 159 people were taken to hospital, and one in-patient was being treated for burns.

In southern Hatay province, flames spread into populated areas but appeared to have been brought under control.

On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited areas affected by fire, inspecting the damage from a helicopter.

Speaking from Manavgat, he said the government would cover the rent of people made homeless by the fire and help them to rebuild their homes.

He said taxes, social security and credit payments would be postponed for those affected and small businesses would be offered credit with zero interest.

“We cannot do anything beyond wishing the mercy of God for the lives we have lost but we can replace everything that was burnt,” he said.

Mr Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires had been increased from six to 13, including aircraft sent by Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Dozens of helicopters and drones were also being used, he said.

Bushfires are common in Turkey coastal regions during the arid summer months.

In the past, Turkey has blamed some forest fires on arson or on Kurdish militants. Mr Erdogan said authorities were investigating the possibility of “sabotage” causing fires.

Tourism is an important source of revenue for the country, and business owners had hoped that the easing of some coronavirus safety measures would make this summer season more profitable than last year’s, when pandemic travel restrictions caused tourism to plummet.

This year, a heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from Africa, has ignited fires in many Mediterranean countries.

Firefighters on the Italian island of Sicily battled dozens of blazes on Saturday.

The fires, fuelled by high temperatures, prompted the Sicilian governor to request assistance from Rome.

About 150 people trapped in two seaside areas of the city of Catania were rescued by sea late on Friday and transferred by rubber dinghies to coast guard boats.

Temperatures in Greece and other countries in south-east Europe are expected to climb to 42ºC on Monday and ease only later next week.

Updated: July 31, 2021, 6:58 PM