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Middle East wildfires: Hundreds flee homes in Turkey as much of south continues to burn

At least six people have died and hundreds have been injured as wildfires rage across southern Turkey
Devastation near the town of Manavgat following a massive forest fire that engulfed the Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast, 31 July 2021 (AFP)

Hundreds have fled their homes as wildfires continue to rage across southern Turkey, leaving at least six dead and more than 330 injured.

The fires, which broke out on Wednesday, are the worst in at least a decade according to official data, with nearly 95,000 hectares (235,000 acres) burned so far this year, compared with an average of 13,516 at this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

The toll rose after the bodies of two workers who had been trying to put out the fires were found, state news agency Anadolu reported.

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The agency said another fire began on Saturday in the tourist city of Bodrum, with other reports saying people had been evacuated from their homes and hotels.

A neighbourhood in the tourist city of Bodrum was evacuated, CNN Turk broadcaster reported, as flames were fanned by strong winds from Milas district nearby.

Unable to leave by road, 540 residents were taken to hotels by boats, the channel said.

There were more evacuations in the village of Sirtkoy in Antalya province, the broadcaster NTV reported, with images of clouds of grey smoke enveloping homes.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said 107 of 112 forest fires were now under control, but blazes continued in the holiday regions of Antalya and Mugla.

Record high temperatures

Temperatures are set to remain high in the region after record levels last month. 

The general directorate of meteorology registered a temperature of 49.1C(120.3F) on 20 July in the southeastern town of Cizre.

The mercury is expected to reach 40C (104F) in Antalya on Monday.

Turkey's defence ministry released satellite images showing the extent of the damage, with forest areas turned black and smoke still visible.

The opposition attacked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Saturday after a video showed the leader throwing tea to residents in fire-affected areas.

In another video, he is throwing tea to people on the side of the road from a bus:

"Tea! It's unbelievable. Those who lose their shame, lose their heart too," main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) spokesman Faik Oztrak tweeted.

The government has also been criticised over the lack of firefighting planes, with Turkey forced to accept help from Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Ukraine.

According to European Union figures, Turkey has been hit by 133 wildfires in 2021 so far compared to an average of 43 by this point in the year between 2008 and 2020.

The Middle East as a whole has been seeing record temperatures in recent years, something that many have attributed to climate change.

In the last two years, hundreds of fires have swept across Lebanon and the coastal highland regions of Syria during summer heatwaves. These fires reached residential areas and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

Apart from wildfires, the blazing heat has caused electricity and water shortages.

Environmental analysts have said that extreme weather events are likely to become more common as global warming continues to have an impact.