Wildfires Rage Through Areas Of Turkey, Lebanon, Italy And Greece
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Wildfires are raging amid a record heat wave in Turkey, Lebanon, Italy and Greece. A volunteer firefighter died north of Athens yesterday as thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, some by boat. The Turkish government has also drawn harsh criticisms of its response to the fires, which have killed eight and scorched more than 500 square miles of coastal forest. As Durrie Bouscaren reports, many neighborhoods have found themselves fighting the fires on their own.
DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: When Engin Basol and his neighbors saw smoke rising behind their village, they rushed to the forest.
ENGIN BASOL: Everybody understood that if they cannot stop it, it's going to connect with the big fire in Mazi village.
BOUSCAREN: It was still small, so Basol started cutting down fresh olive branches to try and smother the fire. Instead, he says, the flames exploded to the size of a large house.
BASOL: It got to the size of the villa in, like, 10 seconds or 15 seconds, you know what I mean?
BOUSCAREN: They used tractors to pull in the water tanks that are usually used in their gardens. After a half hour, Basol and 250 volunteers were able to save Etrim, a small mountain town known for its traditional carpets. But all around them are the blackened hillsides of the Turkish Riviera, once a global tourist draw, now a desolate landscape. Turkish social media is full of images of residents fighting fires on their own, taking care of injured wildlife and sleeping in the open, all against a smoke-filled sky.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SHOUTING, FLAMES ROARING)
BOUSCAREN: In this video by photographer Mustafa Seven, volunteers in surgical masks try to stop a fire from overtaking a mountain road with a single hose. Over a week of high winds and temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the fires quickly became the worst in Turkey's recorded history. In just 10 days, they burned an area three times the size of what typically burns in an average year, and the damage keeps growing. As climate change lengthens droughts and pushes temperatures even higher, these disasters are likely to become more and more common.
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PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Speaking Turkish).
BOUSCAREN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has pledged assistance and rebuilding efforts for those affected by the fire. Some are now living in camps. But the government's lack of preparedness, despite fires being a common problem in the south, has stoked anger, explains Sinem Adar, a Turkish political expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
SINEM ADAR: It's like the disrespect of the current government towards its own citizens has become very apparent.
BOUSCAREN: In recent years, Erdogan's government has cut funding from the agency in charge of firefighting planes, leaving none to respond when the fires broke out. Then, Adar says, officials seemed not to know who was responsible for what, leaving local governments to largely fend for themselves.
ADAR: In general, it's an indication of the inability of Erdogan's government to govern the country.
BOUSCAREN: Erdogan's political opponents are seizing the moment. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party, accused the ruling party of incompetence.
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KEMAL KILICDAROGLU: (Speaking Turkish).
BOUSCAREN: You cannot run this country, he says. For NPR News, I'm Durrie Bouscaren in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.