By Mert Ozkan
MANAVGAT, Turkey (Reuters) -Three people died in a forest fire in southern Turkey on Thursday where authorities were battling multiple blazes for a second day amid suspicions of arson, the country’s AFAD disaster agency and the agriculture minister said.
Dozens of villages as well as some hotels were evacuated, and television footage showed burnt buildings and people fleeing across fields as firefighters on the ground and in helicopters tried to contain a blaze in Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of the Mediterranean resort of Antalya.
Officials have said that more than 60 wildfires have erupted across 17 provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts this week, with the presidency vowing to hold to account those responsible for the “attacks.”
Of those wildfires, 36 have been contained, but firefighting efforts for the remaining 17 continue, with more than 140 people requiring treatment or suffering property damage, according to AFAD.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said an 82-year-old man had been found dead during the evacuation of Kepezbeleni, 16 kilometers northeast of Manavgat, and two people were found dead in Degirmenli, 20 kilometers east of Manavgat.
He said 18 villages and districts had been evacuated in Antalya, along with 16 others in neighboring provinces of Adana and Mersin, as fires spread around Manavgat on Wednesday, fanned by strong winds in hot weather. Authorities also evacuated a Manavgat hospital.
Buildings including a hotel in the Aegean resort of Marmaris were evacuated due to the blaze, state broadcaster TRT Haber said. Footage showed two separate fires near residential areas in the Aegean summer hotspots of Bodrum, where another hotel was evacuated, and Didim.
Pakdemirli said 35 aircrafts, 457 vehicles, and 4,000 personnel were involved in firefighting efforts, as separate wildfires raged in the provinces of Osmaniye, Kayseri, Kocaeli, Adana, Mersin and Kutahya.
“Our struggle to contain (the fires) continues, and surely we will contain them. But this may take some time,” he said.
The timing of the various wildfires has raised concerns of arson, with the presidency’s communications director Fahrettin Altun saying investigations were launched to determine the cause of the fires.
“Those responsible will be held to account for the attacks they mounted on our nature and forests as soon as possible,” Altun said on Twitter.
Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast is known for its scorching summer heat, which often causes wildfires. Officials have said the latest fires are the biggest to date.
Turkey has battled a series of disasters caused by extreme weather conditions this summer, including flash floods last week that killed six people in the Black Sea region.
(Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans, Catherine Evans, Timothy Heritage and Raissa Kasolowsky)