A coal-fired power plant in southwestern Turkey and a nearby city on the Aegean Sea were evacuated Wednesday night when a deadly forest fire reached inside the plant.
Firefighters and police fled the 35-year-old Kemerköy plant in the Aegean province of Muğla, on the side of a hill, and sirens wailed.
The Defense Ministry said it was evacuating villagers by sea as bright balls of orange flame streaked through the hills surrounding the plant.
The regional municipality said that “all explosive chemicals” and other hazardous materials had been removed from the strategic site.
“But there is a risk that the fire will spread to the thousands of tons of coal inside,” regional mayor Osman Gürün told reporters.
Local officials said the hydrogen tanks used to cool the station had been emptied and filled with water as a precaution.
Turkish television footage showed flames hitting power lines and running along the main road leading into the city.
More than 180 forest fires have devastated large areas of forest and killed eight people since they broke out along almost the entire perimeter of the Turkish Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.
The European Union’s satellite monitoring service said its “radiative power,” a measure of the intensity of fires, “has reached unprecedented values in the entire data set, dating back to 2003.”
The force and scale of the fires have exposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to days of criticism for what some observers say has been his slow response to the crisis.
Erdogan had just started a live television interview about the fires when news of the plant’s evacuation broke.
He acknowledged that the firefighters’ efforts to save the station were failing in the face of the “tremendous wind” fanning the flames.
An AFP team confirmed that strong gusts of wind were spreading the flames, meaning that flash points were reappearing in places where the fires had been put out only hours earlier.
Erdogan lashed out at Turkey’s opposition leaders for trying to score political points by questioning their governments’ preparedness and response.
“When fires break out in America or Russia, [the opposition] supports the government, ”Erdogan enraged.
“As in the rest of the world, there has been a great increase in forest fires in our country. There should be no place for politics here. “
The Turkish government appears to have been shaken by the scale and ferocity of the flames.
Its media watchdog on Tuesday warned broadcasters that they could be fined if they continue to show live footage of the fires or aerial footage of people screaming and running for their lives.
Most news channels interrupted their coverage of the unfolding disaster until the fire reached the power plant.
Erdogan himself has been the subject of days of ridicule on social media after throwing tea bags at crowds of people while touring one of the affected regions under heavy police escort.
The opposition has also accused the powerful Turkish leader of being too slow to accept offers of foreign aid, even from regional rival Greece, and of failing to properly maintain firefighting planes.
Erdogan’s office blamed the first fires near Antalya on arsonists, which pro-government media linked to banned Kurdish militants waging a decades-long insurgency against the state.
But more and more public officials link them to an extreme heat wave that has dried up reservoirs and created dusty conditions across much of southern Turkey.
Experts have warned that climate change in countries like Turkey increases the frequency and intensity of forest fires. The government of neighboring Greece has directly linked the devastating fires there, which blanketed the capital Athens on Wednesday, with global warming.
Turkey’s agriculture and forestry minister Bekir Pakdemirli said temperatures in the Aegean city of Marmaris hit a record high of 45.5 ° C (114 ° F) this week.
“We are waging a very serious war,” the minister told reporters. “I urge everyone to be patient.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism