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Huge wildfire kills 11 people in southeastern Turkey

Friday, 21 June, 2024 , 17:05

Cinar, Turkey, June 21, 2024 (AFP) — A huge wildfire killed 11 people and critically injured five as it ripped through Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast overnight, the health minister said on Friday.

Hundreds of animals also perished or were badly injured in the blaze that roared across the dry landscape, sending flames into the night sky.

By morning the fire had left huge areas of charred and blackened land across the Diyarbakir and Mardin provinces.

"Eleven people lost their lives," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on X, adding that another 78 people suffered injuries and smoke inhalation.

Of that number, five people were being treated in intensive care, he said.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish DEM party, which won many municipalities in the southeast in the March local elections, criticised the government's intervention as "late and insufficient".

During the night, DEM had urged the government to send water bombers, saying fighting the blaze from the ground was "not enough".

- Sheep, goats stricken -

An AFP reporter in Koksalan village in Diyarbakir province saw around 100 animals lying dead on the ground.

Residents told AFP around half their flock of about 1,000 sheep and goats had perished in the blaze.

A local vet, who did not want to give his name, confirmed around half the flock had died, and said many of those that survived were being treated for burns.

"We don't have very clear information on how many animals have been affected," the vet told AFPTV.

"But at the moment, just under half of the survivors will have to be slaughtered because they can't be saved."

Seracettin Bedirhanoglu, a member of the opposition CHP party and leader of the eastern Van province, described the images as "unbearable", urging vets to go to the area to help treat the wounded animals.

"They are defenceless and helpless.. In every big fire, they get hurt first. I ask my veterinarian brothers and sisters: please go to the fire zone because they need you," he wrote on X.

- Government opens fire probe -

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya blamed the fire on "a stubble burn" which started late on Thursday and spread quickly due to strong winds, affecting five villages.

Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said on X the public prosecutor's office had opened a probe into the cause of the fire.

Turkey has suffered 74 wildfires so far this year, which have ravaged 12,910 hectares (31,900 acres) of land, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

In the summer of 2021, Turkey suffered its worst-ever wildfires. They claimed nine lives and destroyed huge swathes of forested land across its Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

The disaster prompted a political crisis after it emerged that Turkey had no functioning firefighting planes.

It heaped pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was forced to accept international help.

It also prompted Ankara to push through Turkey's delayed ratification of the Paris Climate Accord, becoming the last of the Group of 20 major economies to do so.

Experts say human-driven climate change is causing more frequent and more intense wildfires and other natural disasters and have warned Turkey to take measures to tackle the problem.