Turkey power plant blaze contained as other fires spread

Country's worst wildfires in decades have raged for nine days and killed eight people

A wildfire that reached the compound of a coal-fuelled power plant in southwest Turkey has been contained.

The flames, that forced nearby residents to flee in boats and cars, were extinguished on Thursday after raging for some 11 hours, officials and media reports said.

Strong winds drove the fire towards the Kemerkoy power plant in Mugla province late on Wednesday, prompting evacuations from the nearby seaside resort of Oren. Navy vessels were deployed to help ferry residents away, while cars formed long convoys on roads leading away from the area, Haberturk television reported.

An initial inspection of the power plant showed its main units suffered no serious damage, Turkish presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said. The privately run plant uses lignite to generate electricity, according to its website.

Television images showed dozens of fire lorries and water tankers surrounding the plant’s main building, some dousing water as part of a cooling effort that also involved planes and helicopters. The main building did not appear to have been affected.

A forestry authority official said the Kemerkoy plant and another nearby power station were still at risk due to the unpredictable winds. Authorities blocked roads and stopped people from approaching Kemerkoy.

Turkey’s worst wildfires in decades have raged for nine days amid scorching heat, low humidity and constantly shifting strong winds. The fires have killed eight people and countless animals.

In coastal Mugla province, where tourist hot spot Bodrum is located, fires continued to burn in six areas on Thursday, officials said. Fires also raged in five districts of Antalya province, another tourism destination, where two neighbourhoods were evacuated on Wednesday.

Precautions were taken before the flames reached the Kemerkoy power plant. The plant's hydrogen tanks were emptied, and workers were evacuated. Flammable and explosive substances had also been removed, according to state broadcaster TRT.

Before the fire reached the power plant, firefighters had been working for two days to protect it from advancing flames. Videos from an adjacent neighbourhood in Milas showed charred, decimated trees.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has come under intense criticism over an alleged slow response and inadequate preparedness for large-scale fires. The government acknowledged the country did not have a usable fleet of water-dropping planes.

Firefighting aircraft from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Spain and Croatia arrived in Turkey to back the ground operation. Planes from Israel were expected on Thursday.

In the past week, mayors posted videos on social media pleading for aerial firefighting responses to local wildfires and Turkish celebrities joined a social media campaign requesting foreign help to combat the blazes.

A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has contributed to wildfires breaking out across the Mediterranean, including Italy and Greece.

The heatwave is forecast to continue in Turkey and Greece until the end of the week.

Updated: August 5th 2021, 11:31 AM