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Turkey’s wildfire toll hits 15 as experts flag faulty wires

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The death toll from a massive wildfire that ripped through Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast last week has risen to 15, hospital sources said on Monday, as experts pointed to faulty wiring as the probable cause, Agence France-Presse reported.

The blaze, which broke out on Thursday between the cities of Diyarbakır and Mardin, killed 12 people outright and left five fighting for their lives.

Three succumbed to their injuries on Sunday, the Anadolu state news agency said.

Hospital sources confirmed the toll on Monday, saying two people remained in intensive care.

Hundreds of animals also perished in the blaze that roared across the dry landscape.

The government said “stubble burning” was the cause but the Diyarbakır branch of Chambers of Turkish Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) ruled that out and pointed to faulty electric cables as the likely trigger.

“The fire could have been caused by the power cables,” it said in a report released late on Sunday, indicating there was “no stubble” in the area and saying the electric wires in the area were in a state of disrepair.

“The cause of the fire was not stubble. The electricity cables and poles were unmaintained and dangerous,” it said, pointing to the absence of “fire prevention measures around the poles.” The findings came two days after an expert report sent to the local public prosecutor’s office said conductive wire “broke and ignited the grass on the ground and it spread to a wide area due to the effect of strong wind.”

The faulty wiring was on a pole in Köksalan village, in an area where the fields had not yet been harvested, the experts said.

They calculated the blaze had ravaged between 1,650 and 2,000 hectares (4,080 and 4,940 acres) of farmland, forest and residential areas.

A preliminary report by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office also included the determination that the fire was caused by faulty electrical wiring that spread quickly due to strong winds and not by a stubble burn.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya had on Friday blamed the fire on a “stubble burn,” and the justice ministry said it had opened a probe.

The chamber’s findings came after officials from Dicle Electricity Distribution (DEDAŞ) in southwestern Turkey had filed criminal complaints against eyewitnesses who claimed that the fire was caused by electrical wires.

Meanwhile, Sinan Ateş, who works for digital media platform Onedio, was widely criticized for his graphic post about the fire, which was found by many to be sarcastic and racist.

The post includes a Smurf drawing of a villager in Diyarbakır among the flames with a text reading: “The Olympic[-size] stubble fire, which was started by village Smurfs, is heading towards Mardin.”

“The Onedio website made fun of the fires in Diyarbakır and Mardin, where so many lives were lost. It called it an Olympic fire! … The prosecutor’s office determined that it was not a stubble fire. Isn’t this a provocation, then?” journalist Bahadır Özgür said in a tweet.

The Mardin Labor and Democracy Platform also said on X that they do not accept Onedio’s “racist post.”

 

Ateş responded by saying it never occurred to him to discriminate against people either ethnically or socioeconomically while creating the drawings. He apologized to everyone he had hurt.

Local media also reported on Monday that the deputy group chairs of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ali Mahir Başarır, Gökhan Günaydın and Murat Emir, filed a parliamentary motion to investigate the causes of increasing forest fires in Turkey.

A CHP delegation including Başarır and MPs Veli Ağbaba, Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Ahmet Baran Yazgan also visited Diyarbakır and Mardin to examine the areas affected by the fire and offered condolences to the families of the victims who lost their lives in the disaster.

Turkey has suffered 74 wildfires so far this year, which have ravaged 12,910 hectares 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.

Experts say human-driven climate change is causing more frequent and more intense wildfires and other natural disasters and have warned Turkey to take measures to tackle the problem.

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