How Turkish citizens are mobilizing to fight forest fires


Turkey’s Mediterranean coast has been ravaged by forest fires since late July, caused by rising temperatures, drought and strong winds. Thousands of residents and foreign tourists had to flee the fire, which left eight people dead.

Residents of the affected region have criticized the government for its inaction and have mobilized themselves using ingenious methods to fight the flames.

Particularly severe fires have hit a number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean since early August, namely Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Unusually high temperatures of up to 50°C have exacerbated the wave, which experts blame on climate change. In Turkey, nearly 100,000 hectares were burned by 2021, compared to the annual average of 13,000 over the past ten years.

More than 130 fires have been reported in Turkey since July 28, with nine still burning as of August 4, despite the deployment of 51 helicopters, 16 Canadair firefighting aircraft and 850 water tankers.

The fire has been particularly severe in the coastal provinces of Antalya, Adana, Mersin, Mugla and Osmaniye.

Many people living in these densely populated provinces have been forced to leave their homes, while tourists visiting the region, a popular summer destination, have fled.

To slow the spread of the flames and protect their homes, some Turks have decided to take matters into their own hands, either alone or with local organizations.

Several eyewitness videos have documented residents’ improvised firefighting efforts.

Normally I hate concrete and everything that has to do with it.

But Turkey has found a great use for these cement trucks in response to the fire. Fill them with water and create mobile fire units.

Turks can be ingenious and incredibly good-hearted when it really matters.

— Can Okar (@canokar) August 1, 2021

The Ruzgar Beton company has offered some of their cement trucks, which have been reused to hold water, for locals to use as ‘mobile firefighting units’, as seen in the two videos above.

Local residents even dare to come close to the flames. Famous Turkish actor Ibrahim Çelikkol picked up a fire hose in a forest near the town of Milas, where the fire entered a coal-fired power station. One of the actor’s friends filmed his efforts.

Turkish actor Ibrahim Çelikkol took part in the fight against the spreading fires in Mugla province.

© Instagram/Mustafa Sandal

Other famous residents of the region, such as actor Sahan Gökbakar, have taken on the role of citizen journalists, documenting the disaster.

Gökbakar posts videos every day about the spread of the fire and local efforts to bring it under control.

In the video above, a group of people form a human chain to run a fire hose from several water tanks to the flames.

“Here’s nothing but tractors… you see, the people here are trying to save the place all by themselves, the fire’s just on [the hill]”, explains Gökbakar.

Residents also used sand to extinguish the fire, as seen in the video below, taken in the village of Delikyol, Marmaris Municipality.

Mayors and local officials in the region, who are part of Turkey’s secular opposition, have asked federal authorities for help and condemned the lack of help fighting the fires.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan replied in a televised interview that local authorities were responsible for controlling fires in populated areas. Earlier this week,

he said the fire was started by arsonists from the PKK, an armed Kurdish guerrilla movement classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and France, among others.

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