Turkey evacuates panicked tourists from wildfires

ISTANBUL (AP) — Panicked tourists in Turkey hurried to the seashore to wait for rescue boats on Saturday after being told to evacuate some hotels in the Aegean Sea resort of Bodrum due to the dangers posed by nearby wildfires, Turkish media reported.

Coast guard units led the operation and authorities asked private boats and yachts to assist in evacuation efforts from the sea as new wildfires erupted.

A video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill close to the seashore. The death toll from wildfires raging in Turkey’s Mediterranean towns rose to six on Saturday after two forest workers were killed, the country’s health minister said.

Fires across Turkey since last Wednesday have burnt down forests and some settlements, encroaching on villages and tourist destinations and forcing people to evacuate.

The Russian news agency Sputnik said more than 100 Russian tourists had been evacuated from Bodrum and relocated to new hotels.

The minister of agriculture and forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli, said on Saturday that 91 of the 101 fires that broke out amid strong winds and scorching heat have been brought under control. Neighbourhoods affected by the fire in five provinces were declared disaster zones.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited some affected areas on Saturday, inspecting the damage from a helicopter.

An aerial photo shows wildfires in Kacarlar village. PHOTO: AP

Speaking from the town of Manavgat, Erdogan announced that the Turkish government would cover the rents for people affected by the fire and 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.

Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires had been increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel as well as dozens of helicopters and drones were assisting the firefighting efforts.

In a speech from Marmaris on Saturday night, Erdogan said one of the fires there had been started by children and other investigations were ongoing.

At least five people have died from the fires in Manavgat and one died in Marmaris. Both towns are Mediterranean tourist destinations.

Tourism is an important source of revenue for Turkey, and business owners were hoping that this summer would be better than last year, when pandemic travel restrictions caused tourism to plummet.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat were treated at hospitals and released, while 10 others were still hospitalised for fire injuries. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated at the hospital and one person was still undergoing treatment for burns.

In southern Hatay province, flames jumped into populated areas but were later apparently brought under control.