Wildfires in Turkey: Despair and problems when forests are burning | Environmental News

Manavgat, Turkey – Turkey’s southern coastline is burning. On the wooded hills in the Manavgat area of ??Antalya, plumes of thick smoke appeared one after another in the sky. Every time a forest fire was brought under control, another forest fire seemed to be ignited.

The blood-red sun passed through the gray-yellow haze, and as the visibility increased, the charred bones of forests and villages were revealed. Many people believe that this is just the latest sign that the world has entered an era of climate crisis, and Turkey is not prepared for it.

According to data from the European Forest Fire Information System, in the past six days, 132 devastating fires have swept southern Turkey and other areas, killing 8 people and burning at least 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of land.

Despite the controversy, many people in Turkey believe that the fires are the result of “destruction”—many politicians encourage this theory—and they coincide with months of severe drought and extreme temperatures.

Antalya is a tourist hotspot. The average temperature at this time of the year is close to 30 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), and the highest temperature this week exceeds 40 degrees Celsius. On July 20, the temperature in southeastern Turkey reached 49.1 (120.38 degrees Fahrenheit), the hottest in history.

Many fires raged in the forests near beach destinations loved by local and European tourists, such as Bodrum and Marmaris, with people fleeing by cars, boats and in some cases luxury yachts. Soaring temperatures have also caused wildfires in most parts of southern Europe, including Greece, Spain and Italy.

Manavgat is one of the places most severely affected by fires in Turkey. Although seasonal fires are normal and even healthy for the local ecosystem, environmental protection organizations have stated that they have never seen a fire of this magnitude. Due to the dry landscape and strong winds—especially from the northeast, known as “poyraz” in Turkey—the authorities are trying to act fast enough to control things.

The main income of the small village of Sirtkoy comes from growing aromatic bay leaves for cooking, but a fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning. Within an hour, the local school was destroyed and many houses were razed to the ground.

The resident Mustafa, who declined to give his surname, pointed to a pile of blackened and still smoking stones in his friend’s house and said, “Everything was fine in this area yesterday.” “There was a fire at 5 o’clock this morning. , The fire was destroyed. At 6 o’clock in the morning, the fire was out, but at 9 o’clock in the morning, the wind came again and the fire followed.”

When Al Jazeera visited Sirtkoy on Sunday afternoon, planes, firefighters and forestry workers worked tirelessly to control the flames, like candles, constantly relighting. The pungent smoke makes the whites of their eyes red, and many men have little to protect their lungs except for disposable surgical masks.

The villagers poured bottled water on the exterior walls and property, desperately trying to put out the fire, while some asked why the authorities had not prepared for the disaster that many people had foreseen and failed to take responsibility.

“No one is responsible for these fires, and we have nothing after today,” said the resident Hatice Cinar, the sound of burning trees falling from the forest below.

Cinar said that this village is not suitable for growing vegetables or raising animals, so the only way of life they know is to grow bay leaves-she has 500 trees. She hopes this will give her 18-year-old son a future, but they have all been destroyed. .

“With the forest, we lost everything,” she said.

Villagers gathered in Sirtkoy to watch the fire in Sirtkoy village [Liz Cookman/Al Jazeera]

Erdogan Tourist Area

Over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other government ministers visited the communities destroyed by the fire to check the damage and express their condolences.

Erdogan said: “We will continue to take all necessary measures to heal the wounds of our country, make up for its losses and improve its opportunities,” he promised that the government will provide financial support to those affected. The announced measures include covering rent and deferred taxes, social security and credit payments, and providing zero-interest credit to small businesses.

Erdogan said: “There is nothing we can do except to pray for the mercy of God for our lost lives, but we can replace everything that has been burned.”

Some criticized the Turkish government’s handling of the disaster, especially due to the country’s lack of firefighting aircraft. Instead, Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran have mobilized water bombers to help, and the European Union said on Sunday that it would send three more.

Due to the lack of resources in the affected area, municipal firefighters from all over the country were sent to rescue. A team of volunteers gathered to provide support to the displaced, including members of the Antalya Communist Party, who have been visiting affected locations since Thursday, donating clothing, food and cold water.

Volunteer Cem Taylan said: “People are having a hard time, but the government should use our taxes to do this, not us.” “This is predictable. This is not destiny. You can control the damage caused by these fires. .”

In Kalemler village, 63-year-old Mitad Akca and his 61-year-old wife Hatice Akca are packing up a car in front of the ruins of their home, containing vegetables and other food donations from the Disaster and Emergency Management Department (Afad).

They said that the entire village was destroyed in 45 minutes three days ago, and the only thing that survived was their jewelry.

“It is 35 kilometers (22 miles) away and I am very nervous and don’t know what to do. I didn’t take anything I just left,” Akca said.

“My tractor and everything else was burned down-50 years of work disappeared in a few minutes. But Erdogan came today and told us that the government will give us new tractors next week and a year’s House.”

63-year-old Mithad Akca in front of his house and barn destroyed by fire [Liz Cookman/Al Jazeera]

“With climate change, fires will increase”

Hediye Gundiz, head of the environmental organization A Platform, said that after the last unusual fire in Manavgat 15 years ago, the government had warned that global warming could lead to more fires, but did not take any action.

She said that in addition to the need for seaplanes to quickly extinguish fires, the government should also hold seminars to train residents in high-risk areas on how to prevent fires.

“It takes 30 to 40 years for a tree to grow. It may take 50 years to restore the water we have, but we don’t have the water we need as we used to,” she said.

However, this is not the only recent sign that Turkey is struggling to combat climate change-in May, a lake in the Van province in eastern Turkey completely dried up. This year, large numbers of flamingo waiting birds were found dead because their waterholes disappeared. Drought created sinkholes in central Anatolia. Last week, six people were killed in flash floods in the Black Sea region of Turkey.

Since December last year, thick and unsightly “sea nose” caused by rising sea temperature and pollution have occupied the Marmara Sea, stifling tourism and depriving local fishermen of their livelihoods.

Fire ecologist Ismail Becker said that the key to recovering from the fire is not to replant as it seems, but to let the forest do its own thing.

He said: “These Mediterranean ecosystems and fires have been like this for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, albeit on a small scale,” he added, adding that Turkey’s strong forest protection laws actually make such disasters more likely. .

Although in some countries, such as the United States, controlled burning is used to remove dry leaves and other garbage from forests, Turkey does not allow them to be used as fuel for fires, leading to larger natural fires that are difficult to control.

“We need to include forests in urban planning because this disaster shows that forest fires have now reached a scale that can threaten urban areas,” he said.

“As the climate changes, it will get hotter and the fire will get bigger and bigger.”

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