Four killed as wildfires sweep Turkey, villages evacuated


A forest fire burns near the town of Manavgat, east of the resort city of Antalya, Turkey, July 29, 2021. REUTERS/Kaan Soyturk

MANAVGAT, Turkey (Reuters) -The death toll from wildfires on Turkey's southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for a third day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas, President Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that 14 were still burning.

Planes from Russia and Ukraine helped battle the flames and another from Azerbaijan was joining them. "As of midday, with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction," Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

"We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control," he said.

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

In Turkey, firefighters on the ground and in helicopters were fighting a blaze that killed three people in Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of Antalya. Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum said 27 neighbourhoods were evacuated there.

One person was found dead on Thursday in Mugla's Marmaris area, 290 km west of Manavgat. The blaze continued in Marmaris but residential areas were not at risk, Pakdemirli said.

Erdogan said at least five planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 1,080 firefighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts at 1,140 sites.

Istanbul governor's office banned entry to forest areas until the end of August as a precaution against fires.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Daren Butler, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Karolina Tagaris in Athens, Laila Bassam in Beirut; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Giles Elgood)

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