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Turkey wildfire toll hits 15 as experts flag faulty wires


Monday, 24 June, 2024 , 15:58

Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 24, 2024 (AFP) — The death toll from last week's massive wildfire that ripped through Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast has risen to 15, hospital sources said on Monday with experts pointing to faulty wiring as a possible cause.

The blaze, which broke out on Thursday between the cities of Diyarbakir and Mardin, killed 12 people outright and left five more fighting for their lives.

Three succumbed to their injuries on Sunday, hospital sources said on Monday, while two others remained in intensive care.

Agriculture ministry figures showed more than 1,000 sheep and goats perished as a result of the blaze with locals in Koksalan village in Diyarbakir province telling AFP some victims died trying to save their animals.

The government said "stubble burning" was the cause but the Diyarbakir branch of the Chambers of Turkish Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) ruled that out and pointed to faulty electric cables as the likely trigger.

"The fire could have been caused by the power cables," it said in a report released late on Sunday, indicating that there was "no stubble" in the area and that electric wires there were in a state of disrepair.

"The cause of the fire was not the stubble. The electricity cables and poles were unmaintained and dangerous," it said, pointing to the absence of "fire prevention measures around the poles".

It also accused private electricity distributor DEDAS, which is responsible for maintaining the area's power lines, of "replacing and repairing the poles the day after the fire, thus obscuring the evidence".

- Faulty wiring in Koksalan village -

The findings came two days after an expert report sent to the local public prosecutor's office said conductive wire "broke and ignited the grass on the ground and it spread to a wide area due to the effect of strong wind".

The faulty wiring was on a pole in Koksalan village, in an area where the fields had not yet been harvested, the experts said.

They calculated the blaze had ravaged between 1,650 and 2,000 hectares (4,080 and 4,940 acres) of farmland, forest and residential areas.

In a post on X, Agriculture Minister Ibrahim Yumakli said the fire destroyed nearly 1,500 hectares of land and that "924 sheep and goats perished in Koksalan".

He said nearly 200 sheep and goats in the area were treated for burns, and another 83 "with severe injuries that could not be treated" were sent for slaughter.

Last June, a fire that broke out in the same area destroyed 68 hectares of land, with residents pointing to faulty wiring, and an expert report identifying DEDAS as "primarily" responsible.

The villagers filed a legal complaint and won, with a Diyarbakir court finding DEDAS guilty of not properly maintaining the infrastructure and ordering it to pay compensation. It was not clear how much.

The pro-Kurdish DEM party, which criticised the government's slow response to the fire, called for a parliamentary inquiry to determine responsibility and hold public bodies accountable for the blaze.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya on Friday had blamed the fire on "stubble burning" with the justice ministry saying it opened a probe.

Turkey has suffered 81 wildfires so far this year that have ravaged more than 15,000 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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.