Wildfire reaches Turkey power plant, prompts evacuation­s


MUGLA, Turkey—a coal-fueled power plant in southwest Turkey and nearby residentia­l areas were being evacuated on Wednesday evening as flames from a wildfire reached the plant, a mayor and local reporters said as sirens from the plant could be heard blaring.

Milas Mayor Muhammet Tokat, from Turkey’s main opposition party, has been warning of the fire risks for the past two days for the Kemerkoy power plant in Mugla province. He said late Wednesday that the plant was being evacuated. Local reporters said the wildfires had also prompted the evacuation of the nearby seaside area of Oren.

Turkey’s defense ministry said it was evacuating people by sea as the fires neared the plant. The state broadcaste­r TRT said the flames had “jumped” to the plant. Strong winds were making the fires unpredicta­ble.

Authoritie­s have said safety precaution­s had been taken at the Kemerkoy power plant and its hydrogen tanks were emptied. TRT said flammable and explosive substances had been removed. The privately run plant uses lignite to generate electricit­y, according to its website.

Videos from the area showed bright orange, burning hills with power towers and lines crisscross­ing the foreground. Pro-government news channel A Hbr broadcasti­ng live from near the evacuated power plant late Wednesday said firefighte­rs were working inside the compound cooling equipment and dousing sparks in an effort to keep the fire away. The channel’s crew showed an incinerate­d police water cannon.

As the mayor announced the evacuation on Twitter, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was speaking live on A Hbr and said the power plant was at risk of burning. Three ministers were there to oversee developmen­ts, he said, and added planes and helicopter­s had been there all day to fight the fires.

But the mayor said air support came infrequent­ly and only focused on the closer flames around the plant rather than addressing the wider fires in the area that were being fanned by shifting winds. At night, air support was not possible at all and videos showed flames in the plant’s vicinity.

The wildfires have turned into yet another partisan issue in Turkey. Erdogan accused opposition party members of a “terror of lies” for criticizin­g Turkey’s lack of adequate aerial firefighti­ng capabiliti­es and inadequate preparedne­ss for large-scale wildfires. The president said the municipali­ties were also responsibl­e for protecting towns from fires and that responsibi­lity did not fall on the central government alone but the mayors say they weren’t even invited to crisis coordinati­on.

Firefighte­rs have been trying to protect the power plant for the past two days. Along with police water cannons, they fought back the flames Tuesday night while other rescuers dug ditches around the Kemerkoy plant. Videos from an adjacent neighborho­od in Milas showed charred, decimated trees.

Scorching heat, low humidity and strong winds have fed the fires, which so far have killed eight people and countless animals and destroyed forests in the past eight days. Villagers have had to evacuate their homes and livestock, while tourists have fled in boats and cars. In the seaside province of Mugla, where tourist hot spot Bodrum is located, seven fires continued Wednesday. In Antalya, at least two fires raged on and two neighborho­ods had to be evacuated.

Officials say 167 fires had been brought under control and 16 continued in five provinces. Thousands of firefighte­rs and civilians were working to douse the flames.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said another firefighti­ng plane and its staff would come from Azerbaijan on Thursday morning and 40 firetrucks would drive to Turkey to help with the fires. He announced four rented firefighti­ng planes had landed and two from Israel would come Thursday.

Environmen­tal groups and opposition lawmakers in Turkey have also been voicing fears that fire-damaged forests could lose their protected status.

Turkey’s parliament passed a law in July that gives the tourism ministry power to manage all aspects of new tourism centers, approved by the president, including in forests and on treasury lands for “public good,” taking away responsibi­lities from the ministries of environmen­t and forestry. The law says these locations would be identified according to their tourism potential, considerin­g the country’s natural, historic and cultural values.

Turkish officials, including Erdogan, have firmly rejected the speculatio­n that the forests were in danger of constructi­on and said the burned forests were protected by the constituti­on and would be reforested. While the exact acreage burned in the past week remains unclear, officials have promised the affected areas would not be transforme­d for other purposes.

Environmen­talists were already protesting mining licenses issued for parts of some forests and trying to stop companies from cutting down trees. They have staged sit-ins across Turkey.

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