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[UPDATE] Death toll in southeast Turkey wildfires rises to 12: minister

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The number of people killed in wildfires that swept through several villages in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has risen to 12, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the health minister on Friday.

“12 people lost their lives” when the fires hit several villages in Mardin and Diyarbakır provinces, Fahrettin Koca posted on X, up from the previously reported 11.

The minister said 78 people were also affected by the fires, six of whom are still hospitalized in Diyarbakır and Şanlıurfa provinces. He said five of them are in intensive care.

Hundreds of animals also perished in the blaze that roared across the dry landscape, sending flames into the night sky.

By morning the fire had left huge areas of charred and blackened land in several areas of Diyarbakır and Mardin provinces.

Images posted on social media showed flames raging over a large area, lighting up the night sky as vast clouds of smoke billowed into the air.

The fires have been contained, the minister added.

The health minister said four emergency teams and 39 ambulances were sent to the scene.

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), which won many municipalities in the southeast in the March 31 local elections, criticized the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s intervention as “late and inadequate.”

During the night, the DEM Party had urged the government to send water bombers, saying fighting the blaze from the ground was “not enough.”

“Fighting the fire on the ground hasn’t been enough. The authorities need to start attacking it from the air immediately,” the party said on X as the fires were raging.

In a later statement, the DEM Party accused the AKP of leaving its Kurdish citizens alone whenever a disaster hits them such as last year’s earthquakes and floods and now the wildfires.

“But we have the power to overcome every disaster hand-in-hand with our people,” the party said.

The Diyarbakır Bar Association, meanwhile, filed criminal complaints at the Çınar Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against the local authorities on accusations that they were late to intervene to ensure the speedy containment of the fires. The bar association also requested an investigation into the cause of the fires.

Animals perished

An AFP reporter in Köksalan village in Diyarbakır province saw around 100 animals lying dead on the ground.

Residents told AFP around half their flock of about 1,000 sheep and goats had perished in the blaze.

A local vet confirmed around half the flock had died, without giving a precise number, telling AFP many others were being treated for burns.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya blamed the fire on a stubble burn that started late on Thursday and spread quickly due to strong winds, affecting five villages.

Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç said on X the public prosecutor’s office had opened a probe into the cause of the fire.

Turkey has experienced 74 wildfires so far this year, which have ravaged 12,910 hectares (31,900 acres) of land, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

In the summer of 2021, Turkey suffered its worst-ever wildfires. They claimed nine lives and destroyed huge swaths of forested land across its Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

The disaster prompted a political crisis after it emerged that Turkey had no functioning firefighting planes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was pressured to accept international help.

It also prompted Ankara to push through Turkey’s delayed ratification of the Paris Climate Accord, becoming the last of the Group of 20 major economies to do so.

Experts say climate change will cause more frequent and more intense wildfires and other natural disasters in Turkey unless measures are taken to tackle the problem.

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