MARMARIS: A roaring blaze raced toward a Turkish thermal power plant today and farmers herded panicked cattle toward the sea as wildfires that have killed eight people raged on for a seventh day.
The nation of 84 million has been transfixed in horror as the most destructive wildfires in generations erase pristine forests and rich farmland across swaths of Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.
Frightened tourists have been forced to scamper onto boats for safety and dozens of villages have been evacuated as wild winds and soaring heat spread the flames.
An AFP team in the Aegean city of Marmaris saw farmers pulling their screaming animals out of burning barns and pulling them to the relative safety of the beach.
Officials in neighbouring Greece have blamed two smaller fires on the island of Rhodes and the Peloponnese peninsula on a record heatwave they link to climate change.
Temperature in excess of 40°C across the south of Turkey also set off a record surge in electricity use that caused power outages yesterday in cities such as Ankara and Istanbul.
Turkey’s energy ministry blamed the outages on drought-like conditions that have emptied dams responsible for hydropower production and a “record level” in electricity use in the heat.
But the mayor of the Aegean coast city of Milas said he was more worried about what might happen should an uncontrolled fire raising massive plumes of smoke over the region engulf the local thermal power plant.
‘Whole new dimension’
Milas Mayor Muhammet Tokat posted an increasingly urgent series of messages on Twitter showing the blazes spreading up a hill toward the presumed location of the plant.
“This is a critical place,” he said in one video showing the blazes.
“The fire has reached the residential complexes,” he posted an hour later.
“Going beyond this hill will mean that the fire will reach a whole new dimension.”
Tokat is a member of Turkey’s main opposition party and one of a growing chorus of voices critical of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the disaster.
The Turkish leader came under a torrent of angry ridicule on social media for tossing out bags of tea to confused locals while visiting the affected region under heavy police escort last weekend.
Many Turks turn to social media for news after a crackdown that followed a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 saw top TV channels and newspapers fall under government influence.
Erdogan’s media aide Fahrettin Altun warned that “information spread on social media platforms, instant messaging groups and forums is fake news” designed to make Turkey look weak.
“Please, let’s rely on official authorities’ statements,” he tweeted.
The government said late yesterday it had put out 145 fires and was still fighting nine.
Turkey’s defence and interior ministers said they were also mobilising their forces to help the firefighters.
The police said they intended to use water spraying tanks of the type used to disperse unsanctioned demonstrations and rallies.
But the Milas mayor said his earlier appeals for help from firefighting planes have gone unanswered.
“It was obvious that this would happen,” he tweeted as the fire neared the power plant.
“I am going to cry in anger.”