By Berna Suleymanoglu and Birsen Altayli
ISTANBUL – Firefighters were tackling a wildfire for a third day on Friday in southwest Turkey, where municipal officials have warned that national authorities are unprepared even after last year’s devastating fires revealed a lack of planes and personnel.
Scenes of burning woodland near the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris since Tuesday have sparked fears of a repeat of last year’s fires that ravaged some 140,000 hectares (345,950 acres) across the region.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s government was criticised by local residents and opposition parties for being unprepared to fight last year’s fires. It responded by saying the wildfires were the worst in Turkey’s history.
Officials from Marmaris and the nearby resort Bodrum, both of which experienced the worst of the fires last year, have said the government is not sufficiently prepared this year either.
Marmaris municipal council member Ali Kirli said last year’s fires should have been considered “warning flares” to prepare better for this summer.
“The fire season is approaching, but there are no planes in the air, there are no workers on the ground,” he told Reuters before the fire broke out on Tuesday.
“Fire-fighting planes and helicopters should be purchased, and a fleet of aircraft should be established.”
Marmaris Mayor Mehmet Oktay said the region was allocated one helicopter as of May and asked for an increase. Since the fire began, he has requested night-vision helicopters to tackle the flames at night, a demand echoed by Bodrum Mayor Ahmet Aras.
In a written response to Reuters’ questions, Aras also said planes should be deployed to the area and fire brigades should be strengthened.
The government has denied the accusations that it was unprepared this year, with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu accusing the opposition of spreading lies. Kirli, Oktay and Aras are all from the opposition CHP.
The forestry authority’s budget was raised by 220% from last year to 2.4 billion lira ($138.15 million) and officials say night-vision helicopters are due to be delivered in July.
Last year, the government had to use planes rented from abroad as the aircraft it usually relies on locally were out of action due to a lack of maintenance.
Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said Turkey had so far turned down offers of help from several countries but that Qatar had sent three helicopters and Azerbaijan sent an amphibious plane.
This year’s fire has damaged more than 3,400 hectares of woodland. Twenty-nine people have been affected by the fire, while 274 people have been evacuated.
One person, who authorities say has admitted to starting the fire out of frustration due to family issues, has been arrested.
Kirisci said on Thursday of the fire that the “problem was largely taken care of” but that strong winds were expected in the area in the afternoon. He said 61 helicopters, 13 planes and some 3800 personnel were working to extinguish the flames.
Last summer’s wildfires were the most intense in Turkey on record, a European Union atmosphere monitor has said. Human-induced climate change is making heatwaves more likely and more severe, scientists say.
($1 = 17.3727 liras)
(This story refiles to fix spelling error in first paragraph)