ISTANBUL (AP) – Panicked tourists in Turkey rushed to the seaside on Saturday to wait for lifeboats after being ordered to evacuate some hotels in the Aegean resort town of Bodrum due to the dangers from nearby forest fires, Turkish media reported.
Coastguard units led the operation, and authorities called on private boats and yachts to participate in sea evacuation efforts as new forest fires broke out. Video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill near the seashore.
The death toll from wildfires raging in Turkey’s Mediterranean cities rose to six on Saturday after two forestry workers died, the country’s health minister said. Fires across Turkey since Wednesday have torched forests and some settlements, encroaching on villages and tourist destinations and forcing people to evacuate.
Russian news agency Sputnik said more than 100 Russian tourists had been evacuated from Bodrum and relocated to new hotels.
In video of the Bodrum fire taken from the sea, a man helping with evacuations was stunned by the speed of the blaze, saying “it’s amazing, just amazing. How did this fire get (here) so fast in 5 minutes? “He was not named in the video.
Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said on Saturday that 91 of the 101 fires that broke out due to high winds and scorching heat have been brought under control. Neighborhoods affected by the fire in five provinces were declared disaster areas.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited some affected areas on Saturday, inspecting damage from a helicopter.
Speaking from the town of Manavgat, Erdogan announced that the Turkish government would cover the rents of those affected by the fire and rebuild their homes. He said tax, social security and credit payments would be deferred for those affected and small businesses would be offered interest-free credit.
“There is nothing we can do but wish for God’s mercy for the lives we have lost, but we can replace whatever has been burned,” he said.
Erdogan said the number of firefighting planes had increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel as well as tens of helicopters and drones were assisting the firefighting efforts.
In a speech in Marmaris on Saturday evening, Erdogan said one of the fires was started by children and further investigations were underway.
At least five people died from the fires in Manavgat and one in Marmaris. Both cities are Mediterranean tourist destinations. Tourism is a major source of income for Turkey, and business owners hoped this summer would be much better than last year, when travel restrictions linked to the pandemic brought tourism down.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat had been treated in hospitals and released, while 10 others remained hospitalized with injuries from the fire. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated in hospital and one person was still in treatment for burns.
In southern Hatay province, the flames jumped into populated areas but were then apparently brought under control.
Forest fires are common in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions of Turkey during the arid summer months.
Meanwhile, a heat wave in southern Europe, fueled by hot air from Africa, has caused forest fires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy and Greece.
Firefighters on the Italian island of Sicily battled dozens of fires fueled by high temperatures on Saturday, prompting the region’s governor to seek help from Rome. Some 150 people trapped in two seaside areas in the city of Catania were evacuated by sea on Friday evening, where they were recovered by rubber dinghies and transferred to coastguard boats.
In western Greece, a forest fire that broke out on Saturday forced the evacuation of four villages and people to a beach by firefighters, coast guards and private boats.
The fire took place in a mountain forest 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Patras, Greece’s third largest city, Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said on Saturday evening. Helped by strong winds, the fire hurtles down the slopes and threatens the seaside villages.
The Civil Protection Agency sent text messages to residents of four villages – two in the mountains and two by the sea – to evacuate. Local media said some villagers refused to leave and tried to fight the blaze with garden hoses.
Temperatures in Greece and neighboring countries in southeastern Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (over 107 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday in many towns and villages.
Robert Badendieck in Istanbul, Colleen Barry in Milan and Demetris Nellas in Athens contributed.
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