Turkish bushfires reach power station near Bodrum

There has been a small explosion within the power plant

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Huge fires that have destroyed large sections of forest in Turkey over the past eight days have reached a power station in the south-western province of Mugla.

The mayor of the Milas district, Muhammed Tokat, tweeted on Wednesday that the plant had been completely evacuated after flames had entered the premises.

A source within the Mugla fire co-ordination unit confirmed the reports and said there had also been a small explosion.

Mr Tokat had said a number of times in recent days that fires were drawing near to the plant and he had asked for help, including aerial support, as the “situation was very serious”.

Damage to the power plant is likely to cause mass electrical outages and could release sulphur and particulate matter into the air, Greenpeace Turkey reported.

Another risk is the burning of coal and power plant structures at the plant and reserve site, though no explosion is expected due to the combustion nature of the coal.

However, with the burning of coal, emissions of sulphur and particulate matter that cannot be treated will occur, and the air quality, already deteriorated due to the fire, will worsen.

The burning of power plant structures means the burning of plastic, wood and rubber materials in the buildings, though the general structure of the building is made from steel.

On Wednesday morning, authorities announced the ire was under control after the arrival of Spanish firefighting planes, but the flames have since picked up again.

The nearby town of Oren was evacuated in the evening and tanks holding flammable materials were drained as a precaution.

Videos shared online showed fierce flames ripping through the hillside near the plant.

Sweltering temperatures of over 40°C — well above the average for August — and strong winds have made this year’s annual forest fires intense and difficult to control.

They have spread quickly through a landscape parched from months of severe drought, leaving many fearful of how the country will deal with what appear to be the effects of climate change.

The government has come under heavy criticism, with many saying its response has been slow or inadequate, particularly when it was revealed that the country does not have any water-dropping planes and had to request international assistance.

Hediye Gundiz, of the environmental organisation A Platform, told The National that since she joined the group in 1997, she has never seen a fire situation like this, where “everything is burning at the same time”.

“It’s not just that we didn’t have enough planes — we had nothing. If we had 60 planes, things would be different but we were not well prepared, despite warnings something like this was coming,” she said.

The fires' strength and scale have exposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to days of criticism for what some observers say has been his sluggish response to the crisis.

Mr Erdogan had just begun a live television interview about the fires as news broke about the evacuation of the plant.

He acknowledged that the efforts of firefighters to save the station were failing in the face of "tremendous wind" fanning the flames.

But he also lashed out at opposition leaders for trying to score political points by questioning his governments' readiness and response.

"When fires break out in America or Russia, (the opposition) stands by the government," said Mr Erdogan.

"Like elsewhere in the world, there has been a big increase in the forest fires in our country. There should be no room for politics here."

The Turkish government appears to have been caught off guard by the scale and ferocity of the flames.

Its media watchdog on Tuesday warned broadcasters that they might be fined if they continue showing live footage of the blazes or air images of screaming people running for their lives.

Most rolling news channels dropped their coverage of the unfolding disaster until the fire reached the power plant.

Updated: August 05, 2021, 7:29 AM