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Fires force evacuations in Turkey, southern Europe

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ANKARA: Dozens of villages were evacuated in tourist hotspots in southern Turkey on Sunday as wildfires that have claimed eight lives raged for the fifth day, while Greece, Italy and Spain were also hit by blazes.

Fanned by soaring temperatures, strong winds and climate change — which experts say increases both the frequency and intensity of such blazes — this year’s fire season has been significantly more destructive than the previous average, EU data shows.

Turkey is suffering thro­ugh its worst fires in at least a decade with nearly 95,000 hectares (235,000 acres) burnt so far this year, compared to an average of 13,516 at this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

A neighbourhood in the tourist city of Bodrum has been evacuated, CNN Turk broadcaster reported, as flames were fanned by strong winds from the nearby Milas district.

Unable to leave by road, 540 residents were taken to hotels by boats, the channel said. There were more evacuations in the resort city of Antalya, NTV broadcaster reported.

After hitting record levels last month, temperatures are set to remain high in the region. A temperature of 49.1 degrees Celsius was recorded in the southeastern town of Cizre on July 20.

And the mercury is expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius in Antalya on Monday.

Turkey’s defence ministry released satellite images showing the extent of the damage, with forest areas turned black and smoke still visible.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised after it emerged that Turkey had no firefighting planes despite one-third of its territory being forested and fires becoming an increasing problem.

According to EU figures, Turkey has been hit by 133 wildfires in 2021 so far compared to an average of 43 by this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

Firefighters were also battling fires in Greece, after a major blaze broke out early on Saturday near Patras in the west.

Five villages have been evacuated and eight people hospitalised with burns and respiratory problems in the region, which remains on alert.

Around 20 homes have been burnt down, according to a provisional figure from the fire brigade.

The mayor of nearby village Aigialeias, Dimitris Kalogeropoulos, called it “an immense catastrophe”.

Around 30 houses, barns and stables were consumed by flames in the villages of Ziria, Kamares, Achaias and Labiri.

“We slept outside overnight, terrified that we would not have a house when we woke up,” a Labiri resident told Greek TV station Skai.

The seaside resort of Loggos was also evacuated, with nearly 100 residents and tourists sent to the nearby city of Aigio.

According to EU data, 13,500 hectares had been burnt in Greece, compared to an average of 7,500 at this point in the year from 2008-2020.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd , 2021

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