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Turkish power plant ‘at risk of being destroyed’ by wildfires

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A thermal power plant in southern Turkey was evacuated on Wednesday as flames from raging wildfires approached it.

Images posted online by the mayor of Milas, Muhammet Tokat, showed the fire at the gates of the plant.

Local authorities had earlier said the hydrogen tanks used to cool the plant, which runs on oil and coal, had been emptied and filled with water as a precaution.

The fire was initially brought under control earlier in the day by two water-bombing planes and helicopters, which poured water on nearby wooded peaks and residential areas. But the flames returned in the afternoon.

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“We have been begging and warning you for days,” about the fire surrounding the plant, Tokat tweeted during the day, calling for “a water bomber plane to be sent here urgently”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has come under heavy criticism for the government’s handling of the wildfires, warned in a television interview on Wednesday evening that the plant “was at risk of being destroyed by fire.”

‘No room for politics’

More than 180 fires have ravaged forests and farmland, as well as populated areas on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast since last Wednesday.

The fires have also severely affected tourist sites that had only recently been able to resume operations after months of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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According to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service, the “radiative power” of the fires in Turkey has reached an intensity “not seen” since 2003.

The opposition has criticised Erdogan for failing to maintain his water bomber fleet and for being slow to accept international aid.

The Turkish Radio and Television Council (RTUK in Turkish) warned TV stations against broadcasting information about the fires that could “cause fear and anxiety” among the population.

Erdogan, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of trying to make political hay out of the situation, while neighbouring countries like Greece are also affected by the fires.

“Forest fires are an international threat just like the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said on Wednesday evening.

“Like everywhere in the world, there has been a sharp increase in forest fires in our country. There should be no room for politics in this issue,” he added.

‘We are fighting a war’

In the early days of the fires, columnists on the pro-government media had accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organisation considered terrorist by Turkey and its Western allies, of being responsible.

But the authorities now cite the extreme heatwave that continues to hit southern Turkey.

According to experts, climate change in countries like Turkey is increasing the frequency and intensity of forest fires.

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Turkish Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said temperatures in the Aegean city of Marmaris had reached an all-time high of 45.5 degrees this week.

“We are fighting a war,” the minister told reporters. “We have to keep our morale and motivation up. I urge everyone to be patient,” he added.

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