Published on: Amended:
Hisaronu (Turkey) (AFP)
Farmer Mevlut Tarim says the raging fire that burned his cow alive, killed eight people and burned large swathes of Turkey was like an explosion.
“The fire happened in an instant,” the 67-year-old man told AFP after he managed to pull and push some of his howling animals through black smoke and burning patches of grass circling his farm.
He said he too was lucky to be alive.
âOne of my cows died. It burned down,â he recalls. “I had never seen anything like it. You can’t even call it a fire. It was really like a bomb.”
Tarim’s story is similar to that of other farmers, as the deadliest and most destructive fires in generations rage on Turkey’s southern coast for a seventh day.
Thousands of farm animals perished and huge chunks of lush forest covering the hills turned into skeletal sticks and ashes.
Anguished farmers tried to direct their herds to the relative safety of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.
But guiding panicked animals is difficult, and the winds that fuel the firestorms around them are unpredictable.
And exhausted firefighters pouring seawater onto the flames from helicopters and spraying the wreckage with hoses aren’t always able to arrive in time to help farmers like Tarim.
– “Do not run away” –
Lemis Sapir is a local insurance agent who felt it was his duty to stay put and help in any way he could.
“I didn’t want to run away,” said the 44-year-old. “We will give all the help we can.”
Turkish social media is full of images of brave locals trying to put out fires with everything from garden watering pitchers to tree branches.
Sapir said the burning city of Hisaronu on the Aegean Sea has received reinforcements from other areas.
“But because of the height of the mountains, which are steep, and the very thick forest, the firefighters cannot intervene,” he said.
“The air reinforcements are not strong enough. There are currently fires in too many places in Turkey and we cannot all respond to them.”
Turkey’s response to the disaster turned into a huge political scandal that put pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The opposition accuses the powerful Turkish leader of being too slow to accept offers of foreign aid – including from regional rival Greece – and of failing to properly maintain firefighting planes.
Erdogan’s office retorts that the entire emergency rescue force has been fully mobilized for days, and calls the allegations of mismanagement “false news” designed to make Turkey appear weak.
Local store manager Yasemin Akkaya said now was not the time to get into politics or discuss Turkey’s geostrategic power.
âNow is not the time to be proud,â Akkaya said.
Farmer Tarim shakes his head as he examines the damage.
âLook around. It’s a disaster,â he said. âWe are lucky to be alive.
Â© 2021 AFP