Turkey is under the shock of unprecedented forest fires that killed four people and injured scores of others in its coastal touristic southern provinces, while authorities are investigating claims of sabotage.
Over 70 wildfires have been reported since Wednesday across the country. Scorching heat and strong winds have fanned the fires in different regions as 4,000 firefighters battled the blazes, aided by helicopters and planes, local media have reported.
Around 100 firefighters and over 80 civilians were injured, mostly from smoke inhalation, emergency authorities have announced.
Many residential areas, villages, and tourism facilities have been evacuated because of the fires, which also caused many farm and wild animals to perish, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Most of the blazes have been brought under control, but several fires were still raging on Saturday in the southwest and south of the country for a fourth consecutive day.
Officials launched an investigation into suspicions that the fires that broke out Wednesday in four locations in Manavgat, a Mediterranean tourist hotspot in Antalya province, were the result of arson.
Forest fires are regular occurrences in summer in Turkey. However, eyewitnesses have reported wildfires erupting at several different points simultaneously, drawing suspicion.
Press outlets and commentators have pointed the finger at Kurdish rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party. Sympathizers of the organization classified as terrorists by Turkey also hailed the fires on social media.
“We won’t know for sure until an official announcement is made, but this year many forest fires have started at the same time in many different areas, which may be caused by arson,” Aydin Tufekcioglu, a forestry scholar, told Xinhua.
The professor of forest ecology from Coruh University in the northeastern province of Artvin also didn’t rule out natural causes, explaining that scorching heat and strong winds make a bad combination for fires.
“There are strong winds in southern Turkey, which makes fighting the fires nearly impossible, and blazes engulf hectares in only minutes,” Tufekcioglu said.
“It (fire) began slowly, but it got quite big because of the winds that intensified the flames, and it threatened several residential areas,” Barcin Yildiz, an insurance salesman who was vacationing there, told Xinhua from the resort town of Marmaris, in southwestern Mugla province.
“I’ve heard of forest fires in this region but never that big,” he said. “It was terrifying.”