The death toll from six straight days of wildfires in Turkey has risen to eight!
Fires raging across southern Turkey since Wednesday have burned down forests and some settlements, encroaching on villages and tourist destinations and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
A new blaze erupted on Saturday in the popular holiday resort of Bodrum on the Aegean coast and some residential areas and hotels were evacuated, according to broadcasters.
Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the summer but authorities say the latest blazes have covered a much bigger area.
Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat were treated at hospitals and released, while 10 others were still hospitalised. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated at the hospital and one person was still undergoing treatment for burns.
Most of the fires are now under control but blazes continued in the southern coastal provinces of Antalya and Mersin, the western coastal province of Mugla, and the central province of Usak.
Turkish meteorological authorities said forecasts pointed to heatwaves along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions. Temperatures are forecast to reach 43 to 47 Celsius (109.4 – 116.6 F) in Antalya next week.
An investigation was under way to determine the causes of the fires.
Speaking from the town of Manavgat, in the south of Turkey, Erdogan said at a press conference later on Saturday that while Ankara was not looking to politicise the incident, it was also “considering the possibility of sabotage” and an investigation was under way to determine the causes of the fires.
Turkey has blamed some previous forest fires on arson or outlawed groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Erdogan said the government would provide compensation for families who lost their homes or agricultural lands. He said taxes, social security and credit payments would be postponed for those affected and small businesses would be offered credit with zero interest.
“We cannot do anything beyond wishing the mercy of God for the lives we have lost but we can replace everything that was burned,” he said.
Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires had been increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel as well as dozens of helicopters and drones were assisting the firefighting efforts.
“Erdogan said that huge efforts are in place to bring the fires under control. Yet it is still very difficult … fires keep erupting,” Serdar said.
Wildfires are common in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions during the arid summer months.
More than 2,600 fires have erupted each year on average in the last decade, but that figure jumped to almost 3,400 last year, said Husrev Ozkara, vice-chair of the Turkish Foresters Association.
A heatwave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean.
Temperatures in Greece and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (more than 107 Fahrenheit) on Monday in many cities and towns and ease only later next week.
Experts have said climate change is fuelling extreme weather events around the world, including wildfires and floods.
Mark Diesendorf, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Al Jazeera that climate change is producing heatwaves and droughts, which in turn creates dry vegetation that more easily ignites large fires.
“Very often most of that ignition is caused by lightning … and then you have a firestorm,” he said. “The best job the politicians can do now is to respond and mitigate climate change, which is the main, driving factor that’s increasing the severity and the frequency of these wildfires and also of floods.”