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Southeastern Turkey wildfire toll rises to 11

Friday, 21 June, 2024 , 14:51

Cinar, Turkey, June 21, 2024 (AFP) — A huge wildfire that swept through several villages in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey overnight killed 11 people, authorities said Friday.

Hundreds of animals also perished 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 in several areas of Diyarbakir and Mardin provinces.

"11 people lost their lives", Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on X, a figure up from the previously reported five.

He said 78 people were affected by the fires, adding that five patients were under intensive care.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish DEM party, which won many municipalities in the southeast in the March 31 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".

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

- Animals perished -

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

A local vet confirmed around half the flock had died, without giving a precise number, telling AFP many others were being treated for burns.

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 experienced 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 climate change will cause more frequent and more intense wildfires and other natural disasters in Turkey unless measures are taken to tackle the problem.